Servant Leader Oral History Project
What Is a Servant Leader?
Servant leaders are people who practice a leadership philosophy that “enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring world” (Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership).
Listen to two or three servant leader interviews from Our State of Generosity or StoryCorps:
- You can learn about servant leaders in Michigan by listening to interviews with them in the Our State of Generosity oral and video history collection [https://ourstateofgenerosity.org/].
- Dr. John A. Kenney, founder of the first hospital for African Americans in Newark, NJ [https://storycorps.org/stories/diane-kenney-and-her-sister-linda-kenney-miller/]
- Joanna Ebenstein, founder of the Morbid Anatomy Museum [https://storycorps.org/stories/joanna-ebenstein-and-bob-ebenstein/]
- Darlene Lewis, founder of a non-profit organization that helps ex-felons find jobs [https://storycorps.org/stories/james-taylor-and-darlene-lewis/]
- Ruth Coker Burks cared for and buried AIDS patients who were abandoned by their families and medical professionals. [https://storycorps.org/stories/ruth-coker-burks-and-paul-wineland/]
What about their stories are interesting, surprising, memorable, or touching to you?
What do they have in common?
How are they examples of “servant leadership”?
For this activity, you will create your own servant leader oral history recording by interviewing a philanthropist in your community. Your storyteller could be a prominent community leader or someone who is quietly making a difference. Your audio or video recording equipment can be as simple as your phone, computer, or tablet. Your teacher can help you determine who to record and how. If you’d like, you can use editing software to tighten up the final conversation and add music.
Crafting Your Interview Questions
Before your interview, create a list of interview questions that will invite an engaging conversation.
You could start with generic questions like these:
- What was an important event in your life?
- What’s the most important life lesson that you’ve learned?
But these could put your subject on the spot if they can’t think of anything. Instead, try to create a list of specific questions that will get them talking. For example:
- Why did you decide to join the military? How did you feel when you found out you were being deployed?
- What was your most rewarding experience as a foster parent? Who is the one child you will never forget?
Also, ask open-ended questions. Which question below is more thought-provoking?
1. Was it difficult to grow up during the Depression?
2. What was it like to grow up during the Depression?
The first question could easily be answered with just a “yes” or “no” if your storyteller is nervous and not very chatty. The second open-ended question is better because the wording encourages a more detailed, thoughtful response. The StoryCorps Great Questions page has suggestions for getting a good conversation going.
During the interview, listen carefully to how your storyteller responds to each of your questions. Do their answers take unexpected turns? Also, listen carefully for any interesting nuggets of information that come up. Keep in mind that the best interviews come from more listening than talking and thoughtful follow-up questions. So trust your instincts and be open to straying from your prepared questions.
Tip: Count to ten between pauses before asking the next question to give your storyteller “think time” during their answers.
People love to tell their stories, but you might need to coax your storyteller to share details and give examples. Make note of any themes that come up again and again. (Did he/she always like animals? Was having a safe place to live always important to him/her?) This will help during the editing process as you decide what to keep and what to delete.
Some tips from StoryCorps to help keep the conversation flowing:
- Look at your storyteller’s eyes, not the microphone. Stay interested and engaged
- Be yourself. You can laugh or even cry with your storyteller.
- Emotional questions like “How does this make you feel?” and “Can you tell me more about that?” often elicit thoughtful responses. Don’t be afraid to ask.
- Be curious and honest and keep an open heart. Great things will happen.
- This video from StoryCorps has very practical tips for recording your interview, saving it and keeping it safe à https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dohm3-plvv8.
With your storyteller’s permission, share your Servant Leader Oral History Project with other students across the world here at firstname.lastname@example.org or on your favorite social media sites.
- What was it like interviewing your storyteller for the Servant Leader Oral History Project?
- What did you learn about servant leadership while creating your recording?
- What are some reasons it might be important to share and preserve our stories?