Servant Leadership in Diverse Contexts – Indian Cultural Context and Hinduism

The second half of the 20th century was a period characterized by numerous transformations in the manner in which leaders managed organization. It was during this era that different leadership styles were developed, chief among them being servant leadership. First proposed in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf, servant leadership is now popular globally and adheres to the principle of responsible morality through higher ideals and values (Dierendonck & Patterson, 2018). This approach represents a paradigm shift in how leaders are perceived and their role within an organization since it espouses a role reversal. Servant leadership is compatible with a majority of world religions and transcends cultures. It is, therefore, fundamental to discuss instances where servant leadership is apparent in other cultures by reviewing the Indian cultural context and Hinduism when seeking to understand its manifestation in contemporary society.

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            Hinduism is an Indian religion that is considered one of the world’s oldest faiths. It is practiced in the greater Indian subcontinent and can be traced back to the Vedic period (1500 to 500 BCE).  Hinduism is currently the most popular religion in India with close to 966 million adherents (Pew Research Center, 2019). Over the years, it has emerged as a top contender among organized religions in India, soaring above Taoism and Buddhism.  Hinduism provides clear instructions to followers with the primary aim of aiding them to control their thoughts, demeanor and the manner in which they communicate. This is achieved through shared concepts, principles, cosmology and rituals meant to guide followers to a transcendent state. The Upanishads, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Vedas are the main scriptures within the religion and regarded as sources of authority for the tradition. Hinduism endeavors to guide its followers by enabling them to develop clear goals, ethics, worship and a sense of liberation.

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Similarities with Servant Leadership

            Several parallels can be drawn between the servant leadership style and the practice of Hinduism. Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that Hinduism is a deeply structured religion requiring devotees to understand and follow all requirements for leading a piteous life as outlined in governing scriptures. These basic tenets aim to ensure that adherents gain a firm understanding of their role in the scheme of life and can, therefore, transform their overall demeanor to reflect this new-found realization. Individuals are expected to remain aware of their duty on other while leading a life governed by ethics as espoused in the idea of dharma. The result is a deep appreciation of life and the process that emerged at different phases during this cycle.

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One of the major core beliefs is that Hindus must strive to serve others as they would expect to be served.  This is strikingly similar to servant leadership which expects persons at the helm of power to reverse roles, serving their subordinates in the same manner they expect to be served. The Bhagavad Gita is also categorical in outlining the role adherents of Hinduism in serving others (Gesteland & Gesteland, 2010, p. 65). They are, therefore, expected to be mindful of the welfare of others while also striving to adopt a selfless approach in life. This corresponds to servant leadership where the welfare of others always takes precedence. Furthermore, Hinduism also encourages service to humanity as opposed to focusing on one’s own pleasures. Servant leadership requires individuals to be caring and sensitive to the needs of others.  This eventually ensures that leaders concentrate on their employee’s happiness as a path to productivity.

Differences with Servant Leadership

            Although similarities exist between Hinduism and servant leadership, glaring differences are also present between the two. The most evident difference is the framework through which they are implemented. In Hinduism, servant leadership is outlined as a basic tenet within the religion. Adherents are required to actively pursue this particular end of they are to make any progress in their religious life. It is almost as though they are commanded by sages and deities to employ this principle in their lives as a way of being assured of a worthwhile experience in the afterlife. They, therefore, apply it in their lives as a religious duty as opposed to personal obligation.  Additionally, servant leadership is viewed within a higher scope in the Hindu context when exploring service, trust, and altruism. The presence of a higher score for the aforementioned variables often means that individuals always remain aware of their actions and accompanying karmic consequences. In performing their duties, Hindus expect a form of reward for their actions.  Servant leadership presents a divergent perspective where rewards are not expected for performing a good deed within an organization.

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Indian Culture

            India has one of the most vibrant cultures in the world. It consists of a myriad shared attitudes, customary beliefs and social practices that have been honed over millennia.  Hinduism also plays a major role in the culture through the development of succinct cultural systems that guide the general population in everyday life. Religion dominates and informs the Indian culture and largely considered the primary reason why the society has thrived through different epochs. Servant leadership is compatible with the Indian culture owing to individual’s ability to commit within an organization while accommodating the needs of others.

Similarities with Servant Leadership

Several similarities exist between the Indian culture and servant leadership. One of the main connections is on the emphasis on voluntary subordination. Leaders are expected to voluntarily offer their services to those who may be requiring them without having been subjected to any form of duress. Theirs should be an exceptional service by putting others first and employing a practical approach when serving people. Additionally, the Indian culture and servant leadership both underscore the importance of relying on the authentic self (Gardenia T. Bulluck ACS BCH.M. M.S. ED.S., 2019).  In both instances, individuals are expected to display a high level of responsibility and humility when interacting with others. It is this particular attribute that allows them to make accurate self-estimations when serving those who may require urgent attention. Moreover, both approaches place the needs of others above the individual while stressing the importance of humility. Individuals are also advised to be patient and avoid seeking instant gratification. Long-term goals are a specific focus in Indian culture and servant leadership a base for success in everyday endeavors.

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Differences with Servant Leadership

            A few differences exist between the Indian culture and servant leadership. The primary differences between the two are the stipulations present within both contexts.  For instance, the Indian culture adheres to the laws of Samsara and Dharma which describe life in detail and the role of each individual within the wider scheme of things. It describes the process present in life and the code of living that should be adopted to ensure that each individual was responsible for their actions. The Indian culture is focused on the self and the liberation individuals can find when serving others (Knott, 2016). Conversely, servant leadership is preoccupied with humbling oneself in a flexible manner that allows individuals to adopt a new mindset to aid in the improvement of relationships shared with employees and the entire organization. Servant leadership permits individuals to stray from established tenets as long as they do so for the benefit of others.  

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            Servant leadership is a relatively new trend that has been gaining traction across the globe. It is compatible with a majority of world religions and even transcends cultures. Servant leadership within the Indian culture and Hinduism is appealing since it emphasizes the importance of always considering other individuals. Although similarities and differences exist between the two, they both provide an opportunity to serve and improve the condition of others.

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