By Andy Gibbons
May 12, 2016

Practice Servant Leadership

Mentoring Blog Series Principle #10: This is part ten of a 12-part blog series that explores Mentoring Skills and Principles for Adults:

The remaining posts will appear weekly.

Principle #10: Practice Servant Leadership.


Ammon defending the king’s sheep

Mentoring is the highest form of teaching. It gets to the heart of how humans influence each other, in the process changing each other in ways that cannot be undone. It is not a casual thing to mentor. Some people feel the best description of a good mentor includes being a good servant.

My personal hero, and a great example of servant-leadership, is Ammon. Ammon was a young man when he gave his best examples of servant-leadership. I want to cite two of them.

Ammon was a religious missionary, but the examples I will describe apply universally: the person who wants to become more influential at work will profit from Ammon’s example; the person who wants to become more influential at home will copy Ammon’s methods; the person who wants to have more impact in the community will study Ammon carefully.

Ammon’s objective was to put a new concept of God into the hearts of an enemy society that had become fierce and warlike. It was for his own community’s safety that Ammon needed to succeed at this task.

Ammon knew that he had to start top-down with the enemy’s King, to get the job done. So how did he begin? He didn’t try to make an appointment with the King. (“Hi, Lamoni. Hey, this is Ammon. I’d want an appointment with you to visit about some new ideas I have. What do you think?. Hi Lamoni? Hello? Hello? Hmmm. Must have been cut off.”)

Instead, Ammon walked into enemy territory and waited to be captured. Of course, this meant that he would spend a few days tied up in prison, which did happen. When the King finally decided to talk with Ammon, he asked, “Why are you here?” Ammon answered, “I want to live among this people, for a while. Perhaps permanently.” We have to assume that Ammon wasn’t bluffing.

The King took to Ammon and offered his daughter as a wife. Ammon refused and said, “But I will be thy servant.” The King took Ammon up on this offer and set him to guarding the King’s flock of sheep. This was actually a dangerous job, and on one occasion, when the sheep were scattered by robbers at the watering hole, Ammon took charge and (without going into a lot of detail) saved the flock and drove off the robbers by himself. It was a disarming display of skill and courage.

Here’s the important part: when the other servants of the King reported what Ammon had done single-handedly, the King asked where Ammon was. They answered, “He is feeding thy horses”, which is right where he was supposed to be. This amazed the King…a lot. It was not the standard of performance he had come to expect from his other servants. When Ammon was finished with the horses, he went to the King, and (again without going into a lot of detail) he was able to have some pretty significant and powerful conversations with the King.

The point of this part of the story is that Ammon did not go seeking power, recognition, rewards, or even the King’s daughter. He went sincerely in the role of a servant, and he faithfully executed what was assigned to him. He worked with the people he was assigned to work with, and he eventually got the audience with the King that he wanted. No gamesmanship, no one-upping, no climbing, just honest service.

The second example from Ammon of servant leadership illustrates how sincere his chosen role as a servant really was. It turns out that the King believed Ammon’s, and as he and Ammon were on their way to a neighboring city in the King’s chariot to free Ammon’s fellow missionaries, who had also been thrown in prison, they met the King’s father, who was the King over all of the land.

The father was beside himself with rage when he saw his son the local King with Ammon, whom he saw as a sworn enemy. The father told his son to kill Ammon on the spot. The son refused. So the father drew his sword and went for his own disobedient son, not Ammon. What did Ammon do? He moved between the son and his father and physically defended the son.

Seeing this, the father went after Ammon with his sword, and Ammon smacked his arm hard enough that he couldn’t use it. Suddenly, the father was begging for his life.

At the end of the story, Ammon gets to free his fellow missionaries from prison, and the father is now a receptive audience for Ammon’s message of peace. He sees that Ammon is not acting like an enemy. This is the second major idea. Ammon had chosen a servant’s role, and by doing so he was able to talk to the son. When he had the father at a disadvantage, he could have slain the main King of the enemy. But he didn’t do it. He was there to make peace, not more war. And so he got to talk to the father as well.

I think Ammon didn’t kill the king, because he really did see himself as a servant. He was not play-acting. What he really wanted was to convey his message to the Kings. There was no guile involved. I like Ammon because of this: he didn’t take advantage of the situation to exercise control over others when he was in a position to do it. He saw that being a true servant was more powerful.

Because he didn’t take advantage of either King, they listened in the end and believed his message, and a whole nation eventually became peaceful with the people of Ammon. It didn’t pacify everyone, and there is a lot more to this story, but this part ends up with almost everyone in a good place. That’s a lot of civic service: and example of servant-leadership

The point I’m trying to make is that you can have a lot more influence when you emphasize your role as a servant rather than as a boss. This applies especially to the concept of mentoring. A mentor is a servant-leader.

Acting “in council”

The concept of the servant-leader is acted out through councils. The ideal of self-government in Boy Scouting is to act “in council”. We influence each other in Scouting by participating in and respecting the council method. Our key organizations in Scouting are called “councils”. My favorite Scouting image is the cover of the January 1951 printing (5th edition) of the Handbook for Boys” (price: 65 cents).Handbook cover

Here it is:

For me this has always been more than a clever image to appeal to boys’ imaginations (which it did to mine). My attention is on the Scouts sitting by the campfire. In my mind’s eye I see them (and I saw them then) planning and making decisions together. In my mind, they are “in council”. They are a council of boys.

What is the message of this illustration for mentors of youth about councils?

Surprisingly, many adults never really understand what it means to act as a member of a council. It is a hard thing to learn, even for those who sit in “council” meetings frequently. It is never fully mastered. It is a skill and an attitude.

Being “in council” is a way of acting and thinking together as a group. In a true council, ideas are heard and considered. Everyone has a chance to speak, and no one dominates. In a good council, an answer emerges from the discussion, and in the best councils, everyone in the group comes to a meeting of the minds and the best plan becomes clear to everyone. There is unity and cooperation.

Of course, this is the ideal case, but as an ideal, it represents a target to aim for. I think a council is the best way to describe an ideal mentorship, which is a council of two or three at a time, making plans and reaching decisions.

In Scout mentoring, the ages of the members of the group often differ: older adults in council with younger adults, adults in council with youth, or older youth in council with younger youth. What is important is not the ages, but the relationship that exists between the members of a council. For a while, everyone in the council has a say. Ideas are brought up, and no one is ridiculed or cut off. Everyone is heard, and feedback from different points of view are exchanged.

If everyone in the council is patient, and if everyone is willing to be flexible, a good plan can emerge that everyone feels good about. No one has had to dominate the decision. Or if there has to be a dominant decision, it has been discussed, all sides have been heard, and the leader’s decision can be an informed one.

Being “in council” is a way of conducting yourself whether you are in a formal meeting or not. A one-to-one mentoring relationship is a council. “Council”-ing is the way of the mentor: working harmoniously as a member of a group of any size, often as a servant, not as a boss. The best leaders at work, at home, and in the civic forum see themselves as servants and resist the temptation to grab control.

As a mentor of youth, you could probably make the skills and attitudes of servant-leadership a goal for your own growth and personal development.

Servant as a leader? Leader as a servant? Yes.

In the coming weeks I will post an article for each of these, so stay tuned!

AuAndythor: Andy Gibbons | Vice-Chair, Western Region Varsity Scout Program Committee and author of the “The Varsity Scout Leaders Day Book



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