SERVUS origin and key purpose
The Servant-Leadership Centre for Research and Education originated from an active group of researchers and practitioners at amongst others the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Greenleaf Centre Europe, THTConsulting, VUMedical Centre and VU School of Business and Economics (former FEWEB). During the last two decades fundamental research on dilemma reconciliation in organizations demonstrated the key role of servant-leaders. Researchers and lecturers from different fields such as sustainable growth, talent diversity, management consultancy, anthropology, medical health care, corporate governance, and cross cultural management found common ground in contributing to servant-leadership development. This cross-disciplinary collaboration and demands from business practice resulted in the launch of the Servant-Leadership Centre for Research and Education on 22 November 2010 with the official opening by R. Smit, Chair of the VU Executive Board.
At a meta level, we see the main reason for SERVUS’ existence: to meet the needs of future generations of leaders to be effective in diverse (business) environments, through the development of a robust new paradigm of servant- leadership in research and education.
Now, more than ever, a leader’s capacity to both direct the organization and its people, while at the same time work in their service, is being recognized as a vital capacity for creating a sustainable organization. The recent economic crisis again reminds us of its importance. For example, we have witnessed the selfish and bonus-oriented business behavior and the economic/societal consequences. Although much is currently being done in the practical world of Servant-Leadership (SL), the formal area of SL academic research and education is only in its starting phase. The creation of SERVUS, a centre for Servant-Leadership focusing on Research and Education aspires to connect and address several recognized needs and interests.
The working-title and acronym SLCRE for the Centre was soon renamed in SERVUS. We have chosen SERVUS for two main reasons: First, “Servus” is a salutation used in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe as a word of greeting (“hello”) or parting (‘”goodbye”), or both, depending on the region and context. The greeting evolved from the commoners’ greeting (said to lords), meaning ‘your humble servant, my noble Lord’. However in modern use, there is no subservience implied, rather it is a friendly greeting. Much like the Italian word “Ciao”, it can also be used as a toast, such as “cheers”.
In choosing this greeting, we wish to both greet and welcome you to the Centre. We also wish to symbolize the core of our work, which is to support and facilitate dialogue and research on the subject of servant-leadership.
Secondly, the word ‘serVUs’ also allows us to highlight our intention to contribute to the development of a new leadership paradigm in our society, which builds on the traditions and values of the Vrije Universiteit (VU), working in and through academia and the business world. Thereby, emphasizing the role that the VU can play in good governance and serving society.
What is Servant-Leadership?
Servant-Leadership is a leadership principle embedded in a way of life, which has been recognized and expounded upon in all parts of the world from ancient times on, and across all cultures. At its simplest, Servant-Leadership is driven by the motivation of enabling others to work more effectively and be successful. Servant-Leadership thus means leading a group or organization in the service of people, the clients, customers, employees, partners, colleagues and/or members of your network. The more you serve, the more you lead fellow servers. Integrating both head and heart, Servant-Leadership expands as a principle to serve the community and act as a steward of the environment and all that inhabit it for.
We distinguish three key areas where SERVUS can play a pivotal role in contributing to the realization of the above, building on the VU’s fundamental raison d’etre as a research and learning institution.
1. To fill a recognized gap in scientific research on the subject of servant-leadership and push the boundaries of knowledge in this field of business studies. Various Fortune 500 and so called Great Place to Work companies have actively emphasized this approach throughout their business practice. Thus clearly SL has an impact. However, there is very little specific research available about SL regarding its application within organizations. SMEs and larger companies are increasingly interested in, and asking for, scientific research on the application of the SL approach in practice, as well as the development of a research principle that is in line with this approach. In this context, it is our ambition to inspire and further develop Greenleaf’s concept of Servant-Leadership for future generations, with specific relevance in a modern, (digitally) interconnected and globalizing context.
2. To develop serving (re)searchers’ and educationalists’ talent. While (re)search is our priority, SERVUS is also addressing and implementing the concept of Servant-Leadership within our educational practices to create a solid fundament for further development. SERVUS thus necessarily sees as its mandate to actively help raise awareness regarding servant-leadership and role model behavior in its activities, research and interactions. To this end we will work in close connection with key people in the field in the Netherlands and beyond (e.g. VUmc, Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership Europe, ZuidAs companies, and sister universities) who share SL principals. The goal is developing professional and personal leadership capacity at all levels, both internally within the university and externally. This goal is also strongly connected with the VU mission and vision of openness, diversity, social responsibility, good governance, and sustainability.
3. To create an international platform which connects and builds on the global (re)search and theoretical developments that are occurring with respect to Servant-Leadership. Aspiring to go beyond existing (SL) knowledge, SERVUS aims to encourage academic discourse, as well as create and distribute news and teaching materials in the fields of SL research and education/training. SERVUS provides a meeting place of diverse minds and generations through exchange, in order to further develop a new paradigm of leadership. These SL connections stretch to both local and international research communities and leadership associations, providing comparative and historical (re)search and theoretical insights.
Distinguishing attributes of SERVUS
Key characteristics/values that SERVUS has chosen to embrace and promote as distinguishing attributes of identity include:
- Focused research philosophy: beyond linear thinking, dilemma framework
- Bridging: theory with practice, education and research, etc.
- Connecting: via people, organizations, viewpoints, spirituality, etc.
- Comparative: a movement of connectivity while bridging time (history), borders (international), people and (e-)organizations (culture) and fields of interest (interdisciplinary) to better understand SL meaning in the context of talent diversity
- ‘Serving’ function: reciprocity in research/education, giving back, exchange of experience - via research and education
- Value driven: consciousness, inner awareness, essence, open and meaningful
- Dynamic: striving to go beyond existing theories of leadership, recognizing that the concept of SL is evolving, i.e. not fixed, and is applicable and significance in multicultural (e-learning) environments
- Generate energy: motivational, anti-cyclic, accelerator of innovation
- Quality and quantity: to reach a quantifiable # of students, organizations, sectors and universities