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President Uhuru Kenyatta at a past official event. Servant-leaders are individuals of character who put people first.

Kenya’s political landscape has been murky for the longest time and that is why Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) launch is not only welcome but also timely.

 The country has been in a host of all types of animosities – tribal, political, religious and even economical. Kenya is always on the path of war and destruction, even with the slightest triggers. To prevent this, it is imminent for reconciliation and unity through BBI.

The primary movers of the BBI – President Uhuru Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) opposition leader Raila Odinga – stated at the launch of the report at Bomas of Kenya that the main import of the exercise is to “unify” the country.

What the two leaders don’t seem to be mentioning, however, is the fact that the country suffers from leadership deficiency; that this is not the first time Kenya has tried to find solutions for leadership exclusionary politics; that the main players are the same.

The anger in 2017 that was felt by Kenyans cannot be separated from deeply-entrenched feelings of leadership exclusion and marginalization, coupled with a flurry of unaddressed historical injustices, which are all at the centre of the violence that followed the protracted and disputed elections.

The question is, what has changed since then? Why has it become necessary to review or change the same document created by a process with more or less similar objectives while Chapter 6 of the Constitution2010 is clear on leadership and integrity?

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Can the BBI be considered a genuine process of constitutional leadership change for national unity and prosperity? Is servant leadership the answer?

Leadership Philosophy

Servant leadership is a philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader’s main focus is the thriving of the country, or their company or organizations. A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of the citizens first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Servant leadership inverts the norm, which puts the citizenry as a main priority. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.

As stated by its founder, Robert K. Greenleaf, a Servant Leader should be focused on the following questions, “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”.

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When leaders shift their mindset and serve first, they benefit as well as the citizens in that the citizenry acquire personal growth, while the country grows as well due to the citizens growing commitment and engagement. Since this leadership style came about, a number of different countries have adopted this style.

History

Before the modern craze for the concept of “leadership” emerged,the autocratic enlightened absolutist King Frederick II (“the Great”) of Prussia (r. 1740–1786) famously portrayed himself as “the first servant of the state”.Robert K. Greenleaf first popularized the phrase “servant leadership” in “The Servant as Leader”, an essay published in 1970.

In this essay, Greenleaf explains how and why he came up with the idea of servant leadership, as well as defining a servant leader. Greenleaf came to the realization that a newfound leader should be someone that servants or workers can relate to.

To serve rather than lead

The most important characteristic in being a servant leader, according to Greenleaf, is making one’s main priority to serve rather than lead. Servant leaders should serve first, the needs of others are their main priority, they find success and “power” in the growth of others, and “A servant can only become a leader if a leader remains a servant”.

In simpler terms, servant leaders should seek to be servants first and to care for the needs of all others around them. In possessing these traits, an individual would be classified as a servant leader because, overall, they are causing the servants to become healthier, wiser, achieve self-improvement, and eventually possess the traits of a servant leader as well.

Greenleaf believed this to be the true intention of a servant leader: “I serve” in opposition of the traditional “I lead” mentality. The “I serve” mentality is evident in politicians who define their role through public service.

Scales and servant leadership extensions

Numerous different researchers and leadership experts have created scales and dimensions in order to differentiate between the levels of Servant Leadership practices as well as evaluate Servant Leadership behaviors. One major extension was Larry Spear’s 10 characteristics of the Servant Leader.

Similar to other leadership experts, Spears believed that Servant Leaders should have these 10 traits: empathy, listening, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. Leadership experts such as Bolman, Deal, Covey, Fullan, Sergiovanni, and Heifitz also reference these characteristics as essential components of effective leadership. Likewise, Joe Iarocci, author of Servant Leadership in the Workplace, identifies three key priorities (developing people, building a trusting team, achieving results), three key principles (serve first, persuasion, empowerment) and three key practices (listening, delegating, connecting followers to mission) that distinguish servant leadership in the workplace context.

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There are also researchers such as Russell and Stone who reviewed the literature and proposed nine ‘functional’ attributes of servant leadership (vision, honesty, integrity, trust, service, modeling, pioneering, appreciation of others, and empowerment) and eleven ‘accompanying’ attributes (communication, credibility, competence, stewardship, visibility, influence, persuasion, listening, encouragement, teaching, and delegation).

They also argued that the servant leader must be a teacher in order to develop their followers, and that values and core personal beliefs were the antecedents to servant leadership.

Servant-Leaders as Individuals of Character

Servant-leaders are individuals of character, those who put people first, are skilled communicators, are compassionate collaborators, use foresight, are systems thinkers, and exercise moral authority.Researchers Sendjaya and Sarros made the claim that Jesus Christ, not Greenleaf, introduced the notion of servant leadership to everyday human endeavor.

They argued that this leadership principle was so important to Christianity that it was captured by all four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Servant leaders have a particular view of themselves as stewards who are entrusted to develop and empower followers to reach their fullest potential.

Employee organization commitment

While Countries thrive based on the work produced by the citizens, the commitment of the citizens to the Country is a major contributor to how well the country functions. Research shows that management style is a main factor in sales person turnover. When put into practice, Servant Leadership has a positive effect on a sales person’s turnover intentions because turnover is mainly associated with “the quality of the salesperson–supervisor relationship.”

ODM leader Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto: The servant leadership principles of love, humility and altruism, vision-sharing, trusting, empowerment and service delivery could bring about the needed transformation and total emancipation through BBI.

Due to servant leaders making their citizens their main priority and placing their well-being above everything else, including the country, the citizens feel a sense of trust and a need to return the commitment and obligation that the leadership has for them to the country. Likewise, Servant Leadership has a direct effect on leadership brand perception.

 Servant Leadership moldsCountries and builds a positive image for the organization. This leads to patriotism in that the citizens “… take pride in what they do and enjoy the company of their compatriots theylive with”. Servant Leaders are also seen as good role models in the eyes of their citizens.

Because of this, citizens begin to act as Servant Leaders themselves, and portray great commitment to the Country where they see these behaviors and how they affect others around them.Thecitizens also are committedto the Government so that they can see and learn more from their Leader.

Citizens life

Servant leadership practices appear to have an effect on the life of the employee.  It has been concluded that citizen perceptions of servant leadership practices and the support of leaders and compartriots has a positive effect on citizens family life. Having their leaders cater to their needs, aids in lowering stress levels, which produces the desire to go home and cater to their family’s needs.

 In addition, Servant Leadership being the foundation of a country is said to lead to citizens having positive experiences and satisfaction which in turn leads to ” a transfer of positive experiences from the work role to the family role”. Servant Leadership being practiced is said to decrease emotional exhaustion, which is the leading cause of citizen burnout. Servant Leadership lessens the feeling of being “drained of inner resources”, so citizens experience an increase in Work-to-Family positive spillover (WFPS).

This decreased emotional exhaustion also leads to stronger marital relationships. Moreover, citizens feeling that their needs are made a priority  aswell as the feeling of being satisfied with their interactions at work on a daily bases, has an impact on their family’s experience with them as they shift from the work role to the family role.

Economic improvement performance

Servant leadership also contributes to citizen goal achievement and success. As defined before, a servant leader’s goal is to build upon the skills of their citizenry and make them better people. With this trait, studies have shown that servant leaders have the ability to influence their citizens to achieve their own goals as well as their work goals due to their leaders empowerment, and this plays a major role in their continued success and growth.

 This outcome is expected because of the Servant Leaders main concern being the well-being of their citizens. Likewise, Servant Leaders managing the work environment and things such as “rewards, deadlines, work allocation and performance evaluations” have a positive effect on the well being and satisfaction of citizens because the practices of a Servant Leader deals with these aspects in a way that benefits the citizens in every way possible.

 Servant Leadership has a positive effect on citizens psychological health in that the less strain on the Citizen and the more they assimilate the better their psychological health.Although many organizations are used to the belief that the “top-down” way, or the leader prioritizing themselves and the Country and then the citizens, is the best way to engage citizens in their work.

 Servant Leadership’s “bottom-up” style, or prioritizing the needs of the citizens first, causes citizens to be more engaged in their work in that they feel like they have social support from their leader as well as their colleagues. Overall, citizens feeling a sense of support, as well as having a leader who are doing everything in their power to do things that are beneficial for the citizens contributes to heightened work performance from the citizens.

Community citizenship behavior

Similar to servant leadership having an effect on citizens’ stress levels, it also affects them emotionally as well. Servant leadership seems to have an effect on the emotional health of the citizens because the servant leaders’ reliance on “one-on-one communication to understand the abilities, needs, desires, goals, and potential of those individuals” aids in the citizens’ ability to express themselves.

 In turn, this nurturing from their leaders makes them return this same nurturing towards their compatriots and making the country a suitable environment for the growth of the citizens, as well as the production of good quality goods and service to grow the Country. Countries that don’t practice servant leadership may discourage citizens expressing their feelingsbut servant leaders encourage this expression to prevent any conflict.

 Servant leaders also make a safe emotional environment for citizens by making acceptance a major goal. Acceptance in this case is the leader being okay with having different personalities, personal views, and values as their citizens, and understanding that their citizens aren’t “perfect”. By doing this, Servant Leaders create a safe space where citizens are able to be themselves and express how they are feeling, knowing that they can trust their leader to be non-judgmental.

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 Lastly, Servant Leaders are able to manage the behaviors of their citizens by being forgiving. Somecitizens may have personalities and/or characteristics that may lead to them doing or saying things to their leader that is unacceptable.

However, Servant Leaders being forgiving, and more importantly understanding, their citizens are able to learn from their mistakes, hence their personal growth and changed behavior within the organization. Servant leadership is an understanding and practice of leadership that places the good of those led over the self-interest of the leader.

Implications

Servant leadership values and develops people, builds community, promotes the practice of authenticity, providing leadership for the good of followers and the sharing of power and status for the common good of each individual, the whole Country and those served by the Country. The serving, caring, sharing and developing conduct of the leader are central in the servant leadership model.

 I have emphasized the need for the two leaders, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) opposition leader RailaOdinga,  to embrace servant leadership principles. Effectively instilled in our leadership, the servant leadership principles of love, humility and altruism, vision-sharing, trusting, empowerment and service rendering could bring about needed transformation and total emancipation through BBI. A servant leadership context is to my mind conducive to see the success of the roll-out of the BBI proposals.

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About the Author

Dr Elijah Achoch is a Human Resource Management and Development Specialist and an adjunct lecturer in Kenya's top universities Business Schools. He holds a PhD degree in HRM from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. Email: [email protected]

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