The Servant Leader vs. the Pragmatist Leader

Our internal thesaurus usally equates the title “leader” with “boss”, “numero uno” or “a monkey could do their job”. We’ve all been in scenarios where…

  • The leader knows how to get things done, yet in the process doesn’t know how to treat their people
  • The leader doesn’t know how to get things done, yet things come together amidst chaos (we’ll call this the Michael Scott syndrome.
  • Michael G. Scott
  • If John Maxwell were to have a Simpson’s-like catch phrase, it would be “Leadership is influence”. Rick Warren is often heard to say (beyond other things) “Leaders are readers”. Both of these statements are true, at least in my experience, and have been a catalyst in equipping church leaders and pastors for the past 15 years. (By the way — I think I’ve heard every one of John Maxwell’s Injoy Life Club tapes — I found a giant batch of them in my home church basement). I know the 21 laws. I’ve seen Purpose Driven in many vehicles. These have made a difference, no doubt.

    But now I’m learning about the leader as a servant. The writings of Robert K. Greenleaf are what fill one of my textbooks for my MA program. Let me tell you that this is not just another textbook. Greenleaf is the founder of the Servant Leadership movement. I’m not suggesting that John Maxwell et al don’t write from the perspective of servanthood. But their philosophical perspective on leadrship is that of pragmatism, meaning that success is measured by consequence. While the goal of leadership/management is to bring positive consequences, it can be devistating to focus only on results. Greenleaf focuses on the importance of developing the person, both the leader and the follower, and that positive results will naturally follow.

    Greenleaf suggests that a servant leader is a servant first, which means that the desire to lead is secondary to the desire to serve. Go ahead and read that again. It’s important.

    Servant leaders…

  • make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served
  • knows that the greatest aim is for the served to grow
  • communication with those you serve is a two-way street; it’s not what the leader says but rather what is heard by the follower that truly matters
  • This way of thinking about leadreship is less about pragmatism (results-oriented) and more about morality (people-oriented), which assumes that organizations that are being served and strengthened by servant-leaders will naturally bring about positive results. This is the aim of pragmatism. Both may bring the same results but do so by starting from almost opposite perspectives. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

    Application for the local church:

  • Is the health of a team measured by their end result or their process? Specifically — is a Worship Team better off by producing great music or by being developed as worshippers? Okay, so it’s both/and. But is it equal? What do I find myself focusing on as a leader? Chances are it will be what I’m good at, which raises another question: do I need to develop my servant-leader skills or my pragmatist-ledaer skills?
  • What are the responsibilites that I have as a pastor/leader to my people? The Apsotle Paul had a sweet balance of pragmatism (be sanctified!) with servanthood (encouraging, comforting) as seen in his letters. Am I spending enough moments in introspection to know where my people are at? Where I’m at?
  • Where’s the pressure? What are the expectations? Why is it easy to ignore servanthood in lieu of pragmatism?
  • May the Lord help us to serve our people as we aim together for meaningful results!

    About radamdavidson

    When I'm not blogging, I'm hanging out with my family, pastoring a church, or listening to vinyl. I think and write about Jesus, music, communication, organizational leadership, family whatnot, and cultural artifacts from the 1980's -- mostly vintage boomboxes. You can read my blog at, watch [RadCast], a daily 3 minute video devotional, or find me on socials (@radamdavidson). I also help Pastors in their preaching and public speaking (
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    2 Responses to The Servant Leader vs. the Pragmatist Leader

    1. Mark Hampton says:

      Love the article just thought I would comment. Often we are measuring leadership by the development of a “thing” or the prosperity of a business or a church. God is only measuring success in souls, his stat book consist of those who’s names are writen in the lambs book of life. However, God measures our effectivness on earth interms of how we lead and develop others. Jack Welch famed GE CEO spent 50% of his time developing leaders he has also produced more fortune 500 ceo’s than anyone in the world. During his rain he had 14 consecutive years of growth. We would call him an excellent leader, a developer of people right? Well, certainly he deserves that acknowledgement. However, Jesus spent the vast majority of his time developing leaders as well, they were called the “disciples.” Jesus has 2000 consecutive years of growth measured in the lives of souls. We as leaders need to re-examine if we are truely making God’s business (which is souls) as profitable as it could be or are we squandering God’s precious resources “people” The principle here is an issue of where we spend our time as leaders — is it with process or is it with the greatest cuting edge resource of every company, organization or church “people!” People drive performance if that were not true Jesus would have never told the story of the talents –people performance does matter to God and effective leadership that develops others is the kind of leadership God’s business needs.

      Thanks for the opportunity to write


    2. David Wilson says:

      Hi. Great thinking and communicating. God bless

      Since you have heard all of Injoy’s tapes, maybe you can help me. Maxwell once read a funny storyabout travelling to the land of past regrets or mistakes. In it he talks about the taxi driving in reverse while looking in the rear view mirror, carrying his own baggage, being invited to a pity party, etc. I would be so thankful if you could help me find that story. Thanks.

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