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March 19, 2001

Servant leadership group
teams up with Employee Council

By Eric Rangus

When it was first created two years ago, the Center for Ethics’ Ethics and Servant Leadership (EASL) forum sought to integrate teaching, research and service in a mentoring environment for students.

Now, through EASL staff members and proactive representatives of the Employee Council, the progressive theories behind servant leadership are being introduced to a very large and diverse group of workers: University staff.

“Service leadership really tries to bring the attitude of service to a leadership role,” said Mary Sue Brookshire, EASL program associate. “It has in mind serving those directly around you as well as serving the community you’re in.”

Servant leadership sprung from a theory by businessman Robert Greenleaf in the 1960s. Rather than utilizing a traditional, hierarchical leadership structure, servant leadership focuses on a sharing of power. It emphasizes a holistic approach to work, promotes a sense of community and stresses service to others.

“You’re trying to empower people around you instead of creating a single, powerful figure at the top,” said Melissa Snarr, EASL director.

It’s hardly a hokey, left-field idea, either. Several companies listed in Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” such as AFLAC and Southwest Airlines, utilize servant leadership’s teachings.

Emory first explored servant leadership in the 1980s through a program in the theology school. The ethics center picked it back up with the creation of EASL.

And while the marriage of EASL with Employee Council would appear to be an ideal fit, the whole connection may not have happened without the efforts of Julia Leon, a council representative from the Information Technology Division.

Leon had read an essay by Greenleaf and, upon learning of EASL’s existence, contacted Brookshire about working together. In February, Employee Council hosted a brown bag luncheon with Bob Hascall, senior associate vice president of Facilities Management, to discuss the issue. More than 50 attended.

Snarr said she hopes to put together another brown bag in April, and plans are in the works to bring to campus Jim Blanchard, CEO of Synovus Financial, to discuss servant leadership in his multibillion-dollar company.

One thing is for sure: the relationship between EASL and Employee Council is going along smoothly—even if no one is willing to take the credit.

“It’s been fabulous,” Leon said. “[EASL] would probably want to give us all the credit, but they have really done all the work.”

Sure enough, in the spirit of shared leadership, Leon’s comment is right on the mark.

“I give all the credit to Julia and [council President-Elect] Bill [McBride],” Brookshire said. “They put all the sweat equity into this. We are privileged to be partners with them.”

Before this recent outreach to University staff, EASL’s primary clientele has been Emory students.

“The challenge is trying to interpret servant leadership in an educational context,” Brookshire said. “This new initiative with Employee Council is probably the closest thing we do that actually mirrors the way it’s happened in business.”

The forum works with about 25 students a year and provides 10-12 summer internships. Snarr said she has received 35 applications for this summer’s 10 positions.


Back to Emory Report March 19, 2001