An Experience In Servant Leadership

A request : This is a very personal reflection around my values. It may or may not align with your values. I request you to be aware of value differences while reviewing it. Also, do draw my attention if you find any dogma in my reflections.

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the goal of the leader is to serve. A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of the ‘followers’ first and helps people develop. A servant Leader should be focused on, “Do those served grow as persons?¹

My community service was with a NGO engaged in the spread of compassion through teaching a form of meditation. It is a non-sectarian method open for everyone. The entire organization is built on volunteering and donations. All the courses are completely free of cost. My service was also completely voluntary devoid of any remuneration. I was provided free lodging, boarding, food and supporting material for those days. Transport to and from the place was at my cost. The location of my service was in Kutch district, Gujarat. There were 143 members who came to learn meditation in this cohort. It was from September 5, to September 16, 2021

I have been associated with this organization from 2014. I have completed three meditation retreats of 10 days as a meditator. I have immensely benefitted from this technique. I have become more focused, there has been more clarity in my thinking, more calm and peace as a result of practicing this. With these benefits came deep gratitude and with this deep gratitude came a natural desire to contribute for the growth of this organization. Thus I had this longing to serve in a course and give back to the organization. Also, I strongly believe that selfless service to others is an important aspect in my spiritual path. If I light the bulb for others, it also brightens my path! Nothing has been more fulfilling to me than selflessly giving to others and paying it forward.

Also, I wanted to be on the other side of the table and notice the systems, processes governing this organization. Volunteering for a course was the best way to even learn about these aspects.

Again, my wife also decided to try this technique. From my experience I knew that it will be difficult for her and thus I decided to serve in the same course so that I can be of a support to her.

Resentment and Gratitude don’t co-exist. I have often observed within me that when I am filled with resentment at that time I am blaming, complaining and stuck. I am unable to identify my unfulfilled needs and take action. On the other hand when I am filled with gratitude — no matter for how inconsequential things — I am more creative, I think of solutions, take action and I am compassionate towards others. One of my goal/ experiment during this service was to explore what causes resentment in me and how can I invite more gratitude in my being?

Intra-Processes

Observations/My inner thoughts and Judgements

“Sid, you have never done this before how will you ‘help’ others?”

“You first need to help yourself before helping others!”

“How will you deal with senior and experienced meditators?”

“What are your duties and tasks?”

“What if I end up hurting or disturbing someone?”

I was filled with much self-doubt and questions when I was travelling from my home to the venue at the start of this stint. There was a need for support and reassurance. Upon reaching I was given a booklet of code of conduct for servers this book clarified most of my doubts.

Very soon on day 1 I realized that You don’t have to be an expert to serve! Encouraging others is the key part to serve. The following quote filled my heart

It is not HOW much you do that matters, it is HOW you do and How much love and compassion you put in it! — Mother Terresa

After this, I didn’t bind myself to any task or role. Any meditator who would come in my contact is my customer. I would do everything to serve them directly or guide them till the end. Not leaving them hanging and devoting myself to their service was the only motto! It was immensely fulfilling experience. I haven't had such motivation while working for corporates or even best paying clients. The value of intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic became crystal clear to me.

As I saw meditators following the path which I had taken and benefitting from it, I was filled with so much joy and gratitude. Service was just an external manifestation of this gratitude.

I realized how in ‘outside’ life as well when I feel gratitude (look at positives) and start serving my audience/customers it helps me move forward. Rather than just looking at the shortcomings, complaining and staying stuck.

This attitude continued for full 9 days. I was tirelessly giving and helping without anyone’s appreciation or even guidance. However soon fatigue caught on. I wasn’t sensitive to my self-care and ignored the early warnings around rest, sleep and support. I became irritable on the last day. There was a trigger that made me livid and I had an outburst. I regret not asking for help and taking care of self. I got aware of the hierarchy of needs and how my physical and emotional needs when not fulfilled triggered me.

Inter-processes

Authority worship

Observation : — The course is conducted jointly by two teachers a male and a female. They are the highest living authority for everything related to this course. Their decision is final on all matters. I saw everyone obeying to them without questioning. Coming from traditional Indian culture many people would also bow down to them and pay respect. Young people would not do this. However even those who didn't express any visual respect also obeyed their requests (yes, they only made requests and no demands!)

I definitely saw a lot of authority worship. Many other sub-process like Idolization, Discounting self, Transference and validation were linked with these authority issues. If this is functional or dysfunctional is very subjective and difficult to judge. The only yardstick I have is that if this worship is empowering individuals to take actions which are helpful to themselves and others or is this keeping them shackled in dogma. I saw both of it happening. At times meditators go so deep inside that they are very vulnerable and authority acts as a ray of hope and beacon that helps them. At other times people were keeping their rationality on side and blindly following authority words.

My hypothesis is that humans have a complicated relationship with authorities. I was sure about that for myself however I also observed that for everyone else during my service. Faith in any authority — real or figurative — gives us so much safety, security and assurance. It may be useful at times however it also limits our potential to think for ourselves and take decisions in the here and now at other times.

Humans are Imperfect and yet it is Humans only that have potential to achieve Perfection (I use Humans, Imperfect and Perfection as nouns here and not verbs)

Some assumptions and definitions -

What is Perfection as I refer here? Reaching a state of complete bliss, where one is filled with infinite joy and compassion (Brahma/Arihant)

What is Imperfection as I refer here? Incessantly reacting out of old habit pattern of survival is imperfection. I cognitively know what is good for me and yet, I am unable to act in accordance to it. I do this out of old habit patterns and ignorance.

Who is a Human as I refer here? Humans are beings that have ability to self-reflect. All living beings are Imperfect however humans through their virtue of self-reflection have the potential to come out of old habit patterns and ignorance i.e. imperfections and transform into perfection of a Brahma or Arihant.

Observations : I saw many people not living up to the values they have voluntarily committed to in the course. There were three 20/21 years young boys who were helpless and restless due to their addiction of tobacco. They were frequently suffering from withdrawal symptoms and thus breaking rules. I was finding it very difficult to empathize and be compassionate towards them and serve them. Then at times, I saw the teacher saying plain white lies in front of other teachers to protect his self-image. This was very shocking for me. I was filled with contempt and resentment for him for some time. This made me very upset untill I got in touch with my beliefs.

When I say that humans are imperfect, it is not about seeing humans as wounded and pathologically ill. It is about acceptance. When I see others not acting in accordance to their values or integrity, this belief that Humans are Imperfect, helps me tolerate them, give them benefit of doubt and even forgive them and move on.

This imperfection is a testament for acceptance, letting go and mourning on my part. It is not a moralistic judgement to condemn and put someone down. I also tried to remind myself of times when I have failed to live in integrity when I am disappointed by others. This mindset has been very useful to me to always mind my own business!

This also connected me to a deeper role I have been holding for so long. This disappointment when I see other’s flaws also brings out the rescuer in me. I want to ‘Help’ everyone with whom I am disappointed. There is a pseudo compassion.

I really got to experience the difference between a Helper and a Rescuer in this service.

Helper operates only from the need of contribution. When I am helping my heart is filled with gratitude and service/contribution are just external expression. On the other hand rescuer has many needs she is not aware of which are more than contribution- achievement, safety, peace, harmony …etc.

Rescuer discounts others and takes more responsibility. Helper empowers others and draws clear boundaries. Helper clearly knows that ‘You can bring the horse to the lake but it will have to drink it’s own water’

Systemic processes

I was underestimating the value of a clear Vision. I experienced it’s power in this service. The vision of this organization is focusing only on teaching meditation and nothing else. This gave crystal clarity and focus to everyone part of this organization. This vision percolated throughout all organizational roles and tasks.

A simple example — If someone would waste food, throw garbage, waste water, electricity etc. volunteers would ignore them and quietly take care of it. If someone has different spiritual beliefs etc. again the volunteers will not argue or indulge in it. The only focus is to teach the practical aspect of meditation to people. Beyond that people are their own masters. This clarity and focus was really amazing to witness.

In conclusion — Nothing has been more fulfilling for me to see than other’s growth. Impact is my core need. Service mindset and servant leadership have this at the heart. It may not be mainstream and may not even go along with the commercialized way of society however it is becoming a way of life for me.

  1. (Sendjaya, Sen; Sarros, James C. (September 2002). “Servant Leadership: Its Origin, Development, and Application in Organizations”. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies