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Servant Leadership in Diverse Contexts

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    The world is full of people that claim to be leaders but very few carry the traits of servant leadership. When one hears the word, servant leadership, they often are left in confusion. A servant is identified as someone who serves while a leader is someone who leads. One may wonder, how do these terms correlate together? In a servant leader, they balance the idea of both. Servant leadership is defined as serving others before serving themselves; Creating an environment where others can be successful. The concept of servant leadership was first introduced by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. A servant leader is one who tries to lead and propel others into progress. Ensuring that the requirements of others are being met and served, this is what brings a servant leader their joy. Another trait a servant leader must have is the capacity to recognize and address others’ issues and help to serve their community. Servant leadership has been around for decades, seen in religious and cultural backgrounds like in Hinduism and Japan. Although servant leadership is present in Hinduism and Japanese cultures, there are of course, some differences.


    The religion Hinduism, was founded between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. Unlike many other religions that are known, Hinduism does not necessarily have a founder; unlike Christians, Catholics, etc. Instead, they believe in universal souls. From outside perspective, one may wonder why Hindus worship so many Gods. But that is where they are misunderstood. Hindus recognize one God that goes by the name Brahamn, who takes shape in many different forms. The reason that is, is because the people of India speak multiple languages and have different cultures which each have interpreted Brahmn in their own way. Even though Hindus believe in numerous Gods, there is one structured element to their religion which is the Veda which in other word is their “bible”. The Veda is countless scriptures that lay the foundation of Hinduism and guides them on their daily life. What is interesting about the Veda and Hinduism is, many of their beliefs a values correspond with the teachings of servant leadership.


    Hinduism and servant leadership surprisingly have something in common. For example, servant leaders primary goal is to use their position of power for the good; by serving others selflessly and creating the freedom for others to succeed. Whereas in Hinduism, one of the most important teachings found in the Veda is to do one’s duty selflessly. “Given that the Atman is one with Brahman, given that the ground of our being is divine, all human beings — despite their foibles, despite their ignorance, despite their cruelty — are divine also. To serve humanity, therefore, as worship of God is the natural outcome of advaita Vedanta philosophy” (Pravrajika, 1997). This idea is similar to servant leadership because the central notion of the concept is to serve all within their community.


    On any subject, to every similarity, is a difference. As mentioned previously, service to others, is present within Hinduism and servant leadership. The difference with that concept is the motive for reward. To elaborate, a servant leader does not serve others for financial or personal gain but for their genuine care for others. For example, there are many public figures that may do acts of service to give others the perception that they are caring people rather than doing it for the greater good. Whereas in Hinduism, reincarnation is strongly believed; this is what gives Hindus the motive behind their acts of service; “Hindu ethics leads eventually to self-realization or liberation from the cycle of birth and death, moksha, through service to humanity” (Muthuswamy, 2018).


    Japan, located in Asia, was founded February 11, 600 B.C. Japan has a captivating and multifaceted culture; with the most profound traditions going back thousands of years “The Japanese are an extremely polite society whose people adhere to the strictest social practices and etiquette” on the other it is a general public in a persistent state of rapid motion, with ceaselessly moving trends and designs and innovative improvement that always pushes back the limits of the possibility (Kelley, 2008). The Japanese culture has amazing cultural values; presenting themselves as respectful collective individuals. Surprisingly enough, Japan’s cultural values are almost identical to the characteristics of servant leader, with very few differences.


    The Japanese values that are practiced in their daily lives are almost exact to the traits of servant leadership. In Japan, they practice “Omoiyari, or empathy, “the ability to empathize with others… is valued more than the ability to be rational and practical” (Shelley 1993, 143). Because the Japanese try to understand other people’s feelings, they tend to refrain from conflicts and disagreements” as well as Chusei shin, “which might be translated as ‘ultimate loyalty’” (De Mente 2004, 50)” (Kelley, 2008). In servant leadership, both empathy and loyalty are components that one must carry. Without empathy, one put in the power of position, may make decisions, based on their personal interest rather than the interest of their people. Not only does empathy affect decision making in a servant leadership, it also affects the relationship the leader has with its people. An empathetic leader cares for its people, and when the people of that community feel that genuine connection, trust is then created. And from there on out, it’s a domino effect. With trust, leads to loyalty. And when a servant leader has the loyalty of their people, it allows an unstoppable group of people. Allowing everyone in the community a chance for success.


    Japans culture may seem almost identical to the concept of servant leadership, but just like everything else, nothing is perfect and an exact match. The difference between Japans culture and servant leadership is the idea of equality. What this means is, in Japan they practice the hierarchy system. “Japan has been strongly influenced by Confucianism, which stresses a hierarchical societal structure with subordinates’ obedience to superiors and men’s dominance over women and children” (Shinohara). In servant leadership, there is no such thing as dominance and inequality. A servant leader see’s one’s self, as part of the community. A leader who promotes themselves as the greatest and most powerful is no longer a servant leader but a dictator.


    The servant leadership theory, is “Greenleaf’s concepts of servant leadership and the leader as both servant and prophet can best be described as a form of counter- spirituality that expresses itself in a dynamic system of social marginality” (Dierendonck, 2010). Robert K. Greenleaf’s theory has been increasingly being accepted worldwide; and seen in religious aspects like Hinduism and in cultural context like Japan. Hinduism and the Japanese culture were very much similar when it came to servant leadership but with a few tweaks, there were differences as well. Being a servant leader requires many qualifications but with the right balance between a servant and leader, success is not only set up for the leader but for people they are leading, creating an environment full of freedom and opportunities for success.


    1. Bhagwan, R. [email protected] ac. z. (2012). Glimpses of ancient hindu spirituality: areas for integrative therapeutic intervention. Journal of Social Work Practice, 26(2), 233–244.
    2. Dierendonck, V. & Patterson, K. (2010) Servant Leadership Developments in Theory and Research. Palagrave Macmillian UK. Retrieved from:
    3. Kelley, J. E. (2008). Harmony, Empathy, Loyalty, and Patience in Japanese Children’s Literature. Social Studies, 99(2), 61–70.
    4. Muthuswamy V. (2018) Hinduism and Social Responsibility. In: Tham J., Durante C., García Gómez A. (eds) Religious Perspectives on Social Responsibility in Health. Advancing Global Bioethics, vol 9. Springer, Cham
    5. Pravrajika Vrajaprana. (1997). What Do Hindus Do?—The Role of the Vedanta Societies in North America. CrossCurrents, 47(1), 69. Retrieved from
    6. Shinohara, S., Zhang, Y., & Riccucci, N. M. (n.d.). What prevents public and private workers in Japan from recognizing gender inequality? INTERNATIONAL REVIEW OF ADMINISTRATIVE SCIENCES, 84(4), 711–728.

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