Servant Leader Profile
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). You can learn about servant leaders in Michigan reading their profiles by listening to interviews with them in the Our State of Generosity oral and video history collection [https://ourstateofgenerosity.org/].
Read two or three servant leader interviews from Our State of Generosity or StoryCorps:
- Karen Tice, Anthropologist, supporter of youth philanthropy https://ourstateofgenerosity.org/leader/karin-tice/
- Jim McHale, VP Programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation https://ourstateofgenerosity.org/leader/james-jim-mchale/
- 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/]
- 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”?
Anyone can be a servant leader. Perhaps you are one yourself!
For this project, you will work with a partner to write a Servant Leader Profile similar to the ones found on the Our State of Generosity website. Importantly, you will want to connect their life story to a bigger issue or theme, specifically how they practice servant leadership through a non-profit organization in the community.
Your profile should answer the following questions:
- Who is your profile subject?
- Where did he/she grow up and go to school? What did he/she study?
- How did he/she become interested in philanthropy?
- How did he/she become involved in his/her current organization?
- What is the organization’s mission? Who do they serve? How? Why?
- Would he/she describe him/herself as a “servant leader”? Why? Why not?
- What can we all learn about servant leadership from your profile subject?
Choosing Your Profile Subject
Before you can write your profile, your teacher will help you choose a person to interview who works for or volunteers at a local non-profit organization. In addition to interviewing your subject, try to spend time doing something together, if you can. That way, you can observe them as they naturally act and interact with others. This will give you great insights into their values and personality and allow you to capture some interesting quotes.
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.
During the interview, listen carefully to how your subject answers your questions. Do the answers take unexpected turns? Listen carefully for any interesting nuggets of information that come up. This requires good listening on your part (i.e., more listening than talking, thoughtful follow-up questions, etc.).
Listen for any themes that connect the examples your subject gives you. (Did he/she always like animals? Was having a safe place to live always important to him/her?)
People love to tell their stories, but you might need to ask your subject to tell you more (share details, give examples) so you can make the connection you need to servant leadership for their profile.
Record your interview if your subject is willing, but be sure to ask permission first. In addition to ensuring accuracy, adding quotations to your profile will help capture your subject’s voice and personality. Don’t worry about writing down everything your subject says. Instead, wait until you hear something that’s said particularly well or in an interesting way that sheds light on your subject’s character, values, or experience. If nothing occurs to you during interview, you can ask your subject for a quote at the end of your interview that you can include in your paper.
A profile is more than a biography. So instead of writing about everything that ever happened in your subject’s life, focus on a particular part of his or her life or an especially significant experience they have had relative to ther organization or the issue/cause it represents.
Find out why/how they became involved with their organization in the first place and why they stayed involved. How does it all connect to servant leadership?
Finally, a profile is not a transcript of your interview (Q and A). So avoid wording like, “When I asked her about …, she said … And then I asked … and she said ….”
Include These Elements in Your Written Profile
- Your servant leader’s name and photo.
- Synopsis - Overview of his/her biography and contribution.
- Education - Where and when he/she went to school and what he/she studied.
- Philanthropic Biography – Specific events or experiences in his/her lifetime that instilled a heart for philanthropy.
- Contributions to the Field – How he/she has and continues to “enrich the lives of individuals, build better organizations, and create a more just and caring world.”
- Quotes – His/her thoughts about philanthropy and servant leadership. You can ask for a quote when you finish if one doesn’t come up during the interview.
Your profile should be at least one page in length. You can create your own template, or use the one similar to the Our State of Generosity template.