Byron's Babbles

Rushmorean Servant Leadership

Posted in Coaching, Education, Education Reform, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 24, 2012

Christ’s Entry Into Brussels
James Ensor

I was prompted today to write about servant leadership; or really leading from where you are. Really I guess I am combining three important concepts to leadership here, but I believe they are not mutually exclusive. First, I believe leaders must be servants, not title holders. Second, I believe everyone must have the ability to lead from where they are, and finally, I believe we must use Christ’s model and lead from the middle.

Let’s explore my three thoughts. As leaders we lose the right to be selfish. Leadership is about serving others, not wielding power because of a title. Great leaders please others, not themselves. The great leaders I admire add value to others’ lives. We should also, as effective leaders, emulate Christ’s model. Finally, as a servant leader we must remain life-long learners and teachable. As the saying goes, “Leaders are Learners.”

Every day when I walk into school, I remind myself that it is not about me. It is about everyone else that I serve. My goal is to make myself the most dispensable person in the building. Imagine how effective our team will be if every person is empowered and has been given the personal, professional growth to lead, educate, and operationalize everything in our high school.

Additionally, I believe we must lead from where we are. I am a card-carrying believer that every person in our high school is a leader – from the person who empties the trash to the students, the teachers, and right to me. I learn from someone in those groups each and every day. Wheatley (2007) promoted a more unstructured style of leadership, which promotes self-organization. She contended that most leaders use control and imposition rather than a self-organizing process (Wheatley, 2007). I believe the more control is imposed on people and situations the more they are made uncontrollable. Wheatley (2007) considered self-organizing systems to have the capacity to create for themselves the aspects of organizations that we thought authoritarian leaders had to provide. Therefore, it is important for leaders to create a culture where individuals are free and the need to create is met (Wheatley, 1992, 2007).

We really need to move from leader-centered organizations to leadership-centered organizations. There must, in my opinion, be a sharing of leadership responsibilities. Schultz (2011) asserted that by flattening the hierarchy and moving toward a shared leadership model, positive outcomes result from a reciprocal influence between leaders and followers. This is the concept I mentioned as my third concept of Christ’s model of leading from the middle. Schultz (2011) recommended sharing leadership with others. This is really important on two fronts – 1. I want everyone in our organization to be empowered to provide leadership anytime they see a need; and, 2. I want to be leading from within right along side everyone, not out in front where I can’t see what is going on. From the middle I can help pull people along and can also help push. Effective leaders are hands-on and operational giving them the situational awareness necessary to be curious, learn, and take action.

I included the image of my favorite painting in this post – Christ’s Entry Into Brussels, by James Ensor. I was first introduced to this painting when I read Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and the Tyranny of Custom by James O’Toole (1995). This book is displayed in my office as one of the top five literary influences on my life. In this book O’Toole introduces the idea of values-based leadership that he calls, Rushmorean Leadership. Based off of the leaders chiseled into Mount Rushmore. As O’Toole said: “I prefer to think of the four as the best representatives of a school of values-based leadership dedicated to democratic change” (O’Toole, 1995, p.21). It is important to think about how all four Presidents led: they listened to others, encouraged dissenting opinion, empowered authority to their subordinates, and led by example instead of power, title, manipulation, or coercion.

Now, back to the painting by Ensor. If you enlarge it you will find Christ in the middle where we always find Christ, among us. Look close at the painting and you will find him in the middle of chaos, just like most of us lead in every day. Remember, he led by becoming one of us and teaching us among us. He would not have had to do this, but it was the only way. He led by example, he listens, and he empowers us each and every day to be the best we can be to serve. Take a moment and reflect on your role as a servant leader. Would O’Toole call you Rushmorean? Are you leading from the middle like Christ?


O’Toole, J. (1995). Leading change: Overcoming the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Schultz, D. (2011). Sharing leadership. Leadership Excellence, 28(2), 16-17.

Wheatley, M.J. (1992). Leadership and the new science: Learning about organization from an orderly universe. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Wheatley, M.J. (2007). Finding our way: Leadership for an uncertain time. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

2 Responses

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  1. Notes On Servanthood « Byron's Babbles said, on November 25, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    […] I blogged a post entitled Rushmorean Servant Leadership Today during my study time I came across the notes I have pictured above. These notes were from […]


  2. […] I was first introduced to this painting back in 2012 and then blogged about the inspiration in Rushmorean Servant Leadership. For me it was about Jesus leading from the middle, or amongst us. I do try to lead in that way […]


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