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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Public service and servant leadership

Yesterday I took the funeral of Marjorie Watson who had been awarded an MBE in 1997 for services to the Frank Knox Fellowships and to the Kennedy Memorial Trust.  The Kennedy Scholarship is an academic award for study at Harvard and MIT while The Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship programme provides funding for students from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to conduct graduate study at Harvard University.

A tribute made at the time she was awarded her MBE noted Marjorie's "extraordinary concern for the welfare of the young people despatched to Harvard and MIT under these programmes. Nothing was too much trouble for Marjorie and the friendships she made have endured deep into the professional lives of the former scholars. Miss Watson's work was her life."

Frances Cairncross, Rector of Exeter College Oxford, who, as a former Trustee of the KMT, had worked with Marjorie gave a tribute and I said the following:

People with a public service ethos wish to give something to the wider public or community through their work. Majorie was one of those people. Her work at the Kennedy Memorial Trust involved enabling others to take up scholarships to study in America. Many of those who were given these opportunities returned saying:

·        "The Scholarship was life transforming for me."
·        "It was a hugely enriching time socially and culturally and one that I will never forget"
·        "The Scholarship was... the catalyst to a career that has exceeded my wildest dreams."
·        "The Kennedy Scholarship has really meant the world to me."

Many have gone on to distinguish themselves in academia, public service, the professions, politics, the media, business and other varied careers. Majorie was among those who enabled that to happen for many of those scholars.

Robert K. Greenleaf, drawing no doubt on the teaching and example of Jesus, has written of the difference between those who aspire to leadership to satisfy their own personal ends and those who aspire to leadership in order to serve others.  The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first [leader] to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test … is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.  Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.

Public service of this type characterized Marjorie’s working life and is, as Greenleaf suggests, the rock upon which a good society is built while Jesus suggests that it is also the rock upon which the kingdom of God is built.


Lou Reed - The Day John Kennedy Died. 

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