By Hariz Aftab

Servant Leadership is a philosophy popularised by Robert K. Greenleaf in his essay “The Servant as Leader” published in 1970. According to him, the objective of a leader is to serve unlike what the notion of traditional leadership implies wherein a leader either serves his organisation or cares for his own ambitions. Service to commonality is the first priority of a servant leader. Says Greenleaf, “Servant leader is a servant first…sharply different from one who is leader first.” He further says that a servant leader makes sure that the common masses are served before all else and thinks reflectively about the effect of his leadership on the least privileged in the society. Such a leader has a vision and he acts accordingly.

A servant leader, says, Robert Greenleaf, has certain exceptional qualities in him. He “listens” to the complexities of the masses and endeavours to “understand” their problems. He is never fenced by the “language” and owns the power to “withdraw” and “reorient” himself in encumbering situations in order to sort out something more critical first and less important later. He possesses “acceptance” and “empathy.” “Anyone can lead perfect people,” says Greenleaf but a servant leader is able to tolerate the imperfections his people display. He can “foresee the unforeseeable” and he is blessed with the “foresight” of what is going to happen in the future. He is the man of “one action at a time” and carries the power of “persuasion” in his tongue. He has “awareness” and “perception” more than those who accept his leadership and Greenleaf at the end counts “conceptualising” as one of the prime powers of a servant leader.

Greenleaf’s considerations when set against the attitude of Indian leaders portray a picture which lamentably is contrasting on all counts. The myriad of problems faced by the people and political nonattendance is witness to the fact that the elected leaders in India beyond doubt are in need of the trait of servant leadership.

Listening and understanding

In view of the political scenario post 2014 and the charged environment, international statistics concerning India have aggravated unpleasantly.  India slipped ten places to 51st rank in Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2019 while it further slipped two places in the same index to 53rd position for the year 2020. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its annual report in 2020 enlisted India as “country of particular concern” reason being the biased proposals by the government like NRC and CAA. Rather than listening to the protesters, understanding the problem and addressing the issues, the leaders rejected the report as “biased” and “new level of misrepresentation” demonising any sort of opposition against their proposals.


Out of 107 countries, India ranks 94th in Global Hunger Index 2020 which signifies a grim situation. Hunger being an apolitical and humanitarian issue deserves boundless attention but the leaders are scarcely seen involved in the issue. Instead we witness the vexation poured upon the people exposing the incautiousness of the government and the leaders. A case registered against a journalist and the arrest of his aide for allegedly maligning the image of the state government who had in reality exposed the substandard (roti-salt) mid-day meal in a school in Uttar Pradesh is a befitting example.

Acceptance and Empathy

The elements of leaders in India today are the exact opposite of acceptance and empathy. The outright denial of climate change when 21 out of the 30 world’s cities with worst air pollution are in India according to data compiled in IQAir Air Visual’s 2019 World Air Quality report with 6 Indian cities in top 10 is distressing. The statements like “Climate hasn’t changed, we have changed” by hon’ble Prime Minister back in 2014 and nullification of the notification released by MOEFCC in December 2015 with reference to new emission norms hence allowing 400 thermal power plants to release pollutants and effluents directly into the environment for up to five more years in 2017 unfolds the true picture. Such acts only portray the denial and unwillingness to accept the complications.

As of now Indian women are facing a lot of problems from domestic violence to sexual violence to harassment and inequality. Empathy with women and desire to genuinely address their issues is noticed in highly decorated election speeches alone. Mastercard Index for Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) studies 58 developing economies and ranks India at 49th place in 2020. A survey by Thomas Reuters Foundation in 2018 ranked India as “most dangerous country for women” and this is bound to happen when lamentable incidents like Unnao (2017), Kathua (2018) and Hathras are witnessed. According to data collected by NCRB, India sees 88 rape cases a day and the conviction rate is astonishingly below 30%.

One action at a time

Holding a chair, beyond the shadows of doubt, is an arduous task for the leaders because it demands all eyes and all attention but there needs not to be a part of doubt regarding carrying a selected task to the end. The chaos encircling the farmers protests wherein nearly 200 farmers have died and the protests are continual for months now, the law and order situation has worsened at times specifically what happened on 26th of January 2021. Throughout the protests, the leaders seemed concerned with everything but the demands of the farmers.  Preoccupation with Hyderabad Civic Polls, Bengal elections in duration and callous attitude towards farmers’ protest are witness to the fact that Indian leaders are neither the men of one action at a time but unproficient enough in their sphere of influence. Previously, when the world was busy fighting corona, some Indian leaders were busy fighting elections.

Foresight, foresee the unforeseeable

In Human Development Index 2020, India stands at 131st position amongst 189 countries. There is not one Indian educational institute among top 100 in QS World University Ranking 2021 while the three institutes included in top 200 also encountered a drop. FDI growth rate dipped to 5 year low in 2018 for the reason of fumble decisions like demonetisation and GST and the number of unemployed reached all-time high in 2019. Missing blueprints to conquer such bad situations not only present before us the lack of vision and readiness to do something for the people but the lack of foresight in Indian leaders as well.


This could be viewed as a facility the leaders in India possess coextending to the amount a servant leader holds. This element, however, requires to be diverted towards persuading people to do excellent in their respective spheres, contribute towards peace and progress and not in persuading them to vote for a few thousands, disperse hate and trolling or to engulf them into pro-government perspectives to accumulate support for any one thing that goes in opposition to common people.


As Robert Greenleaf points out in his essay, “The difference manifests in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? This is a question the leaders in India without exception can ask themselves or utilize it as their yard-stick in order to measure their service. A common Indian can employ this question as well so that he may consider a servant-leader for him and his people.


Hariz Aftab is an independent researcher and can be contacted at


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