To be a servant leader, you have to serve, not lead

Danielle Teigen
Danielle and her son Dominic at a Hope Blooms volunteer event.

by Danielle Teigen, board president

The first time I ever heard the term “servant leadership” was the beginning of my last semester of college more than a decade ago. My communication capstone instructor required that we read Robert Greenleaf’s book “The Servant Leader Within : A Transformative Path”. I remember being intrigued by the idea and impressed as I identified people around me embodying the concept of serving others.

For my capstone project, I wrote articles about each service organization at North Dakota State University and compiled those stories into a work I titled “Service”. In the Editor’s Note, I wrote: “When you serve another person for the sake of serving, you are partaking in one of the simplest but most fulfilling acts. Charles Dickens said, ‘No one is worthless in this world that lightens the burdens of others.’ Dickens’ simple quote depicts the basis of servant leadership. Greenleaf said that to become a servant leader, one needs to possess a natural feeling that one wants to serve and conscious choice brings a person to aspire to lead.”

Dominic helping assemble bouquets for women staying at the YWCA emergency shelter on Mother’s Day.

The concept of servant leadership faded to the background over the next several years until a good friend decided to create a non-profit based on that very idea. When Kelly talks about the origins of Hope Blooms prior to July 2016, she often cites servant leadership as the reason and how she wanted her son, merely a few months old when she founded the organization, to understand the value of serving others for the sake of being kind. Kelly is one of few people I know in this world who derives true joy by bringing light and love to others, and I am constantly in awe of her ability to impart joy in the lives of others through the simplest of acts.

Her example has inspired me to evaluate what kind of service I want to model for my own children, which is why I’ve included my son in a couple of Hope Blooms activities. I want him to experience firsthand what it means to do good for others, simply because you can. My involvement with the organization means I’ve processed flowers in my kitchen, hosted volunteer activities at my house, and filled my entryway with bouquets to be delivered. He has witnessed all of these activities, and each time I explain to him what we are doing – making flower arrangements for people who may be sad or sick and need a reminder that someone thought of them and that someone cares about them. Only recently has the concept started to sink in, so much so that he thinks all flowers in hospitals come from Kelly!

Danielle and Dominic delivering bedside bouquets to residents at Edgewood Vista.

But more importantly than understanding the concept is his desire to participate in the activity. Back in June, he was able to attend a volunteer event where he actually had the opportunity to select the blooms and greens to build individual bouquets. The care he took in choosing each flower and helping me arrange it in a way that would make the recipient smile was infectious, and I could not have been prouder of him. He was also delighted to help us deliver all of the beautiful bouquets to a local assisted living facility, and the staff member who led us in to the building commented several times about how great it was that he was helping with the effort.

My hope is that the experience of creating and delivering those flowers – and the wonderful emotions associated with it – left an indelible impression on him and serves as the inspiration behind many more acts of servant leadership to come.

Learn more about the Hope Blooms mission to inspire hope, happiness and emotional healing.

Note: Professional photos courtesy of Ten Little Chickens Photography.