The Paradox of Power and Service

Servant leadership is seen as a paradox of leading through giving up power and serving others. This oxymoron is usually framed as a contrast of power and service. A biblical understanding of human sinfulness and salvation reveals, however, the real contrast is not power versus service, but service versus self-interest. The opposite of true servant leadership is self-centered, egotistical pride. The failure of leaders to serve others while properly using their power and position stems from the leader’s self-centeredness.

It is not the use of power, but the abuse of power that stands in contrast to selfless serving. Until a leader’s egotistical pride and self-centeredness is removed, there will always remain some disconnect between belief and behavior. Just as salvation is needed to restore moral goodness, true servant leadership depends on the leader’s surrender of ego and self-centeredness.

When ego is surrendered, a leader can exercise power without abuse, and power can co-exist with service. In the truly other-centered leader, power is subjected to the heart of serving. The leader powerfully serves others, rather than others serving the leader’s need for power. Such describes the leader who is walking with God. Michael Cooper states that

when the leader is walking with God, his own personal agenda is put aside for the interest of empowering others to follow God. Only by a strong relationship with God can the leader set aside his own interests for God’s interests in others. This will give others confidence that the leader’s motives are not self-derived, but pure.

Servant leadership is not leadership devoid of power and authority, but devoid of self-centeredness and egotistical pride.

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