In answering the Pharisees’ test question as to whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife, Jesus cites the creation story to remind his audience — and us — that Christ-centered relationships are to be characterized by mutual respect and equanimity rather than the dominance of one party over the other. (Mark 10: 2-16) In his guest blog, Mark Elberfeld examines the role of power in our lives and how we understand and use it. Mark is my older son and the President of the Gabriel Center for Servant-Leadership. He lives in Atlanta.
I recently had the privilege to work with a small group of young adults in their 20s. For one year, they will live together in intentional community and each work for a different non-profit or other community organization to improve people’s lives in one particular neighborhood of Atlanta. Their program uses the term servant-leadership to explain their philosophy of service to others.
At one point we discussed several examples of corporations that embody servant-leadership by empowering their front-line employees with decision-making power: Synovus Bank, Southwest Airlines, and Nordstrom, which upended its hierarchical pyramid to reflect the department store’s emphasis on servant-leadership.
Reflecting on the inverted pyramid, one woman asked a profound question: “If someone has all the power, why would they give it to someone else?”
To me, that is the paradox of servant-leadership – how do we strike a balance of serving and leading in our families, our places of worship, our schools, and in our national politics?
It’s pretty clear from my perspective that our institutions usually aren’t designed to empower those at the bottom. There is always imbalance.
Later, the young woman talked about her work in a food pantry as a means of educating those she serves. She shared the old adage: “Give someone a fish and feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and feed him for a lifetime.” Servant-leadership is empowerment.
So why would someone with power give it to others? Why would a department store give decision-making power to its front-line employees? Why would someone choose servant-leadership over command-and-control?
What are your thoughts?
There is a new addition to the KAE Writes Library! Check out Resurrection in the “Nature of All Things” section.