Leadership as Service

Article excerpt

During these past months as president of the AMS Board, I have asked for support, time, and energy commitments from many people: Task forces have been established, committees have been formed, people have been contacted to assume specific responsibilities, and inevitably the response has been "Yes, certainly, I can help." These are people who are all busy with schools, students, families, and other work responsibilities, and yet they are willing to donate more time and energy to a just and noble cause-to make the world a better place for our children.

These generous outpourings have led me to reflect on my own definition of leadership. When I heard Robert Kennedy speak at UCLA in the early 1960s, he spoke eloquently about social justice, our responsibility to all members of society, treatment of the migrant farm workers (Viva la Cause), and the original meaning of leadership. He defined leadership as service. I had not experienced or consciously considered that simple interpretation of the word, yet that meaning resonates as deeply within me today as it did then. Some people that come to mind when I think about service-oriented leaders are Cesar Chavez, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and others. And more recently, the willingness of many Montessorians to assume additional tasks and responsibilities reaffirms the truth of Kennedy's definition, and makes these Montessorians leaders in the most profound sense of the word.

As I was writing this article, I heard about Joy Turner's death. It is not a coincidence that as I am thinking of genuine leaders, I feel Joy's presence. Joy tirelessly worked for her beliefs, consistently striving to make AMS an excellent, professional, and respected organization. She dedicated her life to promoting quality educational environments for children throughout the world and for the adults who would be fortunate to share life with these children. With Joy you felt a sense of your own power and dignity because that is how you were treated. A leader who serves-that was Joy. Her service will be continued through our service; she would want it to be so. Joy was truly a leader and a beloved friend.

"Googling" (it seems we now have a new verb to include in our grammar materials) the phrase "leadership as service" brought up a variety of references. One was the book Lives of Moral Leadership by Robert Coles. In these times when the words moral leadership can carry certain disquieting connotations for some of us, I was relieved to see that Coles' reading of this term had to do with a strong, ethical character and a commitment to social justice and service. Coles focused on leaders such as Robert Kennedy, Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi, and a bus driver involved in busing students at the beginnings of integration in the South. These people had difficult decisions thrust upon them, and by their choices, they set meaningful moral examples for others.

Coles asserts that each of us is called upon to be an example of moral leadership. He states in his introduction:

I hope through these accounts of moral leadership to show how each of us plays a role in the moral drama of the world around us, and show by implication how we can play an even greater one, at one time or another, in the course of our lives. (Coles, p. xvii)

Author Lewis Lapham supports Coles' assertion that strong morals and character are at the core of leadership:

Leadership consists not in degrees of techniques but in traits of character; it requires moral rather than athletic or intellectual effort, and it imposes on both leader and follower alike the burdens of self-restraint. (www.brainyquote.com)

The belief that leadership is within each of us certainly motivates the Montessori teacher to work diligently to give every student not only the actual opportunity to develop leadership through such experiences as conducting the morning and class meetings and taking responsibility for the care of the classroom, but also to develop the practice of moral leadership through the attention to peace experiences, conflict resolution, and many types of community and global social service and environmental activities. …

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