Servant Leadership Conference has familiar, new faces

The Ninth Annual Servant Leadership Conference has come full circle. In 2000, the first conference featured a panel discussion format, with multiple speakers. Intervening years saw individual speakers as keynoters. This year, the original format returns.

“Some of the people, particularly in this area, are those who got us where we are,” said Kelvin Redd, the director of the Center for Servant Leadership at The Pastoral Institute. “We wanted to hear from them again. We also wanted a national perspective.”

Local voices will be Kathelen Amos, director of the Amos Foundation; Jim Blanchard, retired chairman and CEO of Synovus; and Bill Turner, an original founder of The Pastoral Institute and retired chairman of the W.C. Bradley Co.

One of the panelists is repeating this year from 2000: Jack Lowe, retired chairman and CEO of TDIndustries, a facilities and construction firm with offices in Texas and Arizona.

Servant leadership is a leadership style in which the head of the organization — whether a business or congregation — aims to put his or her employees first. In modern times, it’s been espoused by Robert K. Greenleaf, and supported by many leadership and management writers.

Servant leaders achieve results for their organizations by giving priority attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve. They aim to be humble stewards of their organization’s resources including human, financial and physical.

Greenleaf kicked off the modern movement with his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader,” in which he coined the terms “servant-leader” and “servant leadership.” Greenleaf subsequently published a number of additional essays on various aspects of servant leadership.

In order to be a servant leader, it’s generally believed you need the following qualities: A listening ear, commitment to growth, foresight and building community, according to servant leadership materials.

Historical figures including Jesus, and Lao-Tzu — believed to have lived in China between 570 B.C. and 490 B.C. — are frequently cited as ancient examples.

Kent Keith, Ed.D., the current CEO of the Greenleaf Center in Westfield, Ind., will be part of the Columbus forum. A Rhodes Scholar, Keith has been an attorney, a state government official, a high-tech park developer, a university president, a YMCA executive and a full-time speaker and author.

His degrees include a bachelor’s in Government from Harvard University and an M.A. in Philosophy and Politics from Oxford University in England.

The theme of the conference is ilead2serve, which is also the name of Redd’s blog.

Redd has high hopes for the event.

“I hope people have a better understanding of servant leadership, how these people do it, and that it’s possible,” Redd said. “It’s counter-cultural, because we’ve been conditioned to think in terms of autocratic leadership. ... I believe this generation in particular is so resistant to that type of leadership.”