Picture of a Servant Leader

Being a leader is about putting others first. Throughout my life, I have had the privilege to have an amazing role model of a leader who puts others first. This is known as servant-leadership. Robert Greenleaf in his essay “The Servant as Leader” wrote this:

It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first… The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types…The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.

Photo by Pam Denlinger

Photo by Pam Denlinger

Let me tell you about a guy who lived his life putting others’ needs above his own. As the twelfth of 13 children, Buck was Uncle Buck to nearly 40 nieces and nephews. Throughout high school, Buck was a friend to all. Fifty years later, many of his classmates will still tell you stories of Buck—all grounded in the love that they knew Buck had for them. At age 17, Buck’s father died. As the only son still at home, Buck spent the next couple years serving his mother and greater family by caring for the family farm until it was sold at auction.

Buck next enlisted in the US Army and served his country for two years in Europe. After returning home, he joined the local volunteer fire department where he served his community for over 35 years, retiring as chief. He responded to emergencies facing his friends and neighbors. One night, Buck had to tell some of those neighbors that their two young boys perished in the house fire. Even though it was the most difficult night of his life and the lives of those neighbors, Buck was able to do it with love and compassion, because that’s the kind of guy he was.

Buck also served his neighbors as a policeman in his small town and as a member of the county road crew. On many snowy nights while folks were home warming by the fire, Buck would work through the night to clear roads allowing his neighbors to get to work and school safely the next morning. In the summer, Buck would literally dig the best ditches in Miami County, just so that they looked good to everyone who drove by and served their purpose to clear the farmers’ fields of rain water. While Buck was protecting his neighbors or digging those ditches, he would always take time to teach the young guys on the crew how to do their job better, smarter, or with more enthusiasm.

Buck loved his neighbors and it showed through his service to his country, his community, and his family. Sure, his family had to eat many cold Thanksgiving meals because a neighbor would inevitably cook their’s too long and require a visit from the fire department. And his son had many cancelled birthday parties because Mother Nature decided to have a snow day. But his family would have it no other way because they knew their father loved them and loved their neighbors.

Three years ago today, Dad passed away after battling cancer. At his viewing and funeral, nearly 500 friends and neighbors waited hours, many in the freezing cold, to honor my family by sharing memories of how Dad served them with laughter, protection, or his time. During those few days, I heard the impact of dad’s service to his neighbors. As I look back on the life of my father, I can see what a great leader he was because he always put others first.

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