I don’t usually read self-help type books, but I was recently given a copy of The Servant and decided to give it a go. The book, written by public speaker and labor relations consultant James C. Hunter, was published in the 90s and has sold over 3 million copies. It follows the journey of businessman John Daily, who tries to fix his failing company and relationships by going on a weeklong retreat at a monastery. Through his time at the retreat, he learns how to be a better leader in all aspects of his life.
The Servant is more interesting than your typical self-help book because the author doesn’t simply tell you what to do; he puts his advice in the context of a fictional story. This made the content a little easier to swallow, although much of the dialogue is stiff and preachy. The characters in the book also clearly have certain roles to play in order to further the points of Simeon, the monk leading them in discussion. These characters tend to be flat and stereotypical, especially the sergeant whose sole purpose throughout the book was to exclaim exasperatedly, “What is the whole point of this?!” I was compelled to skip over some of dialogue, as much of it rehashed the lessons Simeon taught in different words.
While some parts of The Servant are repetitive and obvious, there are a few points that I believe will stick with me for a long time. The whole book is focused on identifying and explaining the principles of good leadership, but I think these principles can also be applied to just being a good person. Take a look at Simeon’s leadership model below:
This model suggests that we start with a will, which is defined as our ability to align our intentions with our actions (or choose our behavior). From there we love, which means to identify and meet the needs of those we lead, who we will then serve and sacrifice for in order to meet those needs. Based on such actions, we will build authority and influence with people, and then we become leaders.
All in all, this seems like a pretty good model, even if it is a bit obvious. While some people rule with power and fear, the truly effective leaders who are loved by their followers are the ones who have served the most. I know that I am more willing to work for someone who has my best interests in mind and would work to help me. People like Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., who all gained authority and leadership through serving the needs of others, truly exemplify this model.
The most interesting part of the model is its reliance on love. Simeon argues that we have to love like Jesus said: love your neighbor and love your enemies. But how can you love your enemies? Why would you love anyone who has done you wrong? One of biggest arguments of the book is that love as Jesus meant it is not a feeling, but a verb. Love, as paraphrased from the New Testament, is patience, kindness, humility, respectfulness, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty, and commitment. None of these components are feelings; they are all behaviors that we can choose to implement. While these qualities might seem obvious and easy to understand on the surface, the book breaks down each of them in the context of leadership. If nothing else, I would encourage people to read the chapter titled ‘The Verb,’ where all of this is explained. It has changed my outlook on how I should interact with others, and I will be trying to implement the lesson in my own relationships.
While this book is set in a monastery and includes discussion about Jesus, God, and religion, I would not classify it as a religious book. At its core, it is a book about love and treating others the way you wish to be treated. It may seem like an unrealistic and utopian vision for leadership, but I think if everyone would work on loving and serving one another in small steps, our relationships and quality of life would improve, and everyone could be a leader in their own way.