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Servant Leadership and Desmond Tutu

Several authors argue that peoples’ motivations are influenced by the leadership styles they socialize with (Eisler & Carter, 2010, p.100). For instance, servant leadership has replaced transformational leadership as one of those leadership styles that influence peoples’ motivations through serving them while upholding one’s personal integrity (Liden et al., 2008, p.161). Based on the above, the author chose to study how Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a respected and famous South African activist, and cleric, upheld the principles of servant leadership.

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To start with, borrowing from Chatbury et al. (2011, p.58), servant leadership stressed the need for leaders to earn trust by fully accepting and empathizing with their following masses. This was demonstrated by Tutu when he empathized with many non-white South Africans who had been heavily discriminated against under the white Apartheid rule. To demonstrate the high level of his empathy, Tutu quit his first career in teaching to study and devote himself to Christianity in the year 1958 (De Klerl, 2003, p.456). Here, like Jesus Christ, he believed in the triumph and the power of good over evil things. As a result, he entrusted the remarkable strength of the dynamic human spirit to help him achieve his dream of seeing a ‘free and equitable’ South African nation.

Also, Chatbury et al. (2011, p.58) suggested that the South African concept of Ubuntu (which embraced caring and serving, hospitality, and the notion that a human being existed through assisting other human beings) matched the qualities of the servant leadership theory that include amongst others humility, moral authority, service, and sacrifice. Comparing these findings to our chosen leader, De Karl (2003, p.357) established that Tutu’s theology was also known as the Ubuntu Theology and similarly rested on a person depending highly on his/her neighbor and God in a way that defined one’s real identity (De Klerl, 2003, p.357).

Nonetheless, Ebener (2010, p.13-14) described a servant leader as a serving leader as opposed to a self-serving person. This was interpreted to mean that servant leadership concentrated on influencing people toward achieving common goals (Liden et al., 2008, p.161; Taylor et al., 2007, p.405).

These goals benefited the group or the community by serving their collective and common interests (Ebener, 2010, p.14). Similarly, Desmond Tutu advanced the above by resigning and quitting his teaching career in the year 1958 to influence the black South Africans into resisting the oppressive apartheid leadership rule which had infringed on many of their rights. The motivating factor behind Tutu’s resignation was the passage of the Bantu Education Act. This act defined poor educational standards for the non-whites and high and better standards for the ruling whites in South Africa.

On their part, Lidein and others (2008, p.162) carried out a study that concluded that servant leadership was a multi-dimensional approach encompassing nine dimensions. These were emotional healing, conceptual skills, the creation of community value, the act of building relationships, the act of servanthood and empowerment. A majority of these dimensions were also achieved by Tutu in the following manners:

On emotional healing, Tutu showed sensitivity to the suffering of South Africans by advancing active cleric and activism roles. This was only one year after the end of the apartheid rule. On the creation of community value, he demonstrated a genuine concern for helping many suffering South Africans by advancing statements and speeches on the theme of liberation theology (De Klerl, 2003, p.327). The community value was realized when followers joined hands to resist and overthrow the oppressive Apartheid rule in the year 1994.

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On the dimension of conceptual skills, he possessed knowledge on the tasks at hand by effectively leading The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (BBC News, 1998). He is also the chair of a number of charitable events and works including the Amandla AIDS Fund, The Ubuntu Education Fund, and the Global Action Against Hunger. Lastly, he built relationships when he successfully chaired a Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose mandate focused on promoting national unity as well as reconciliation among the warring factions in South Africa.

In addition, servant leaders are dependable as a result of their intuition, foresight, and their character of leading by example (Chatbury et al. 2011, p.58). On this, Tutu demonstrated his intuitive ability by applying his thinking to a number of issues affecting his community. To expound, we are told that it was through self reasoning that he proposed to offer amnesty to perpetrators of inhuman acts such as torture and murder. This was implemented in the course of achieving the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Process in South Africa (BBC News, 1998).

In a nutshell, therefore, the author noted that Archbishop Desmond Tutu provided a good example of a servant leader. This is so because right from his school days as a teacher, he demonstrated the skills and attributes that defined a servant leader through his sayings, teachings, and actions. Surprisingly, despite having retired from most of his leadership roles, Tutu continues to advance servant leadership through motivational lectures and chairing a number of both national and international charitable organizations.


BBC News (1998). Desmond Tutu’s long crusade. Web.

Chatbury, A., Beaty, D. & Kriek, H.S. (2011). Servant leadership, trust and implications for the “base-of-the-pyramid” segment in South Africa. S.Afri.J.Bus.Manage, 42(4), pp. 57-62.

De Klerl, B.J (2003). Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu: Livings icons of reconciliation. The Ecumenical Review, 55(4), pp. 322-334.

Ebener, D. R. (2010). Servant leadership models for your parish. New Jersey: Paulist Press.

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Eisler, R. & Carter, S. (2010). Transformational leadership from dominion to partnership. ReVision, 30(4), pp. 98-107.

Liden, R.C. et al. (2008). Servant leadership: Development of a multidimensional measure and multi-level assessment. The Leadership Quarterly, 19 (2008), pp.161-177. Web.

Taylor, T. et al. (2007). Examination of leadership practices of principals identified as servant leaders. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 10(4), pp.401-419. Web.

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