Our modern, media-visible leaders seem to be forgetful people. Celebrities who marry on a whim, divorce three months later, develop an eating disorder, then repeat; big businesses who outsource American manufacturing to foreign countries where they can rob impoverished laborers of their rights; politicians motivated by greed who bypass the needs of the masses to promote the wants of the wealthy few: these are some of today’s leaders. Aggressive self-interest all too often plays substitute for the scarcely-recalled humility that true leadership requires.
“Leadership,” “service,”–conjoined ideals that resurfaced multiple times throughout my student career as lofty words I thought speakers threw around just to sound impressive–I never imagined anyone expected us to actually take them seriously, or even understand them. No amount of nudging opened my eyes to the correlation. It was a realization I had to find for myself, slowly, from a jumble of sources. The strongest was my adoption of the alias Thain; research into the word’s origin revealed it to be derived from the Old English title thegn, meaning the retainer of a king. A thegn’s duty was not only to serve the king, but to lead his own warband as both soldier and lord–they were warriors who toiled beside the common people on the battlefield as well as the noble administrators of their lands. In other words, whenever appropriate a thegn was a servant of the king and a leader of men. I decided I wanted Thain to mean me, an expression of who I was and hoped to become; in the ancient thegns I recognized a straightforward simultaneousness of leadership and service that I wanted to achieve. It took years before I realized that the themes I thought I had linked all by myself had been weaving themselves in and out of my education ever since my grade school years at a small private Catholic school, Our Lady of Lourdes, where our motto was “enter to grow and learn, leave to lead and serve.” When I applied to join my high school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, there they were again, disguised as airy, purposeless words, their significance obscured by flowery ceremony. With shock I connected this to my own principles a long time afterwards, having discovered the convictions it had been trying to convey. I think this lesson had to be self-taught for me to truly understand it; without my own reflections, “leadership” and “service” would still have the substance of air for me.
I believe that true leaders are servants. Though leadership is outwardly perceived as domination, in truth humility is its foremost requisite, because every leader’s first duty is to those who follow. A leader is someone who leads; the occupation becomes redundant if there is no one who needs that guidance. In essence, anyone who provides direction for others performs service for them. Leadership is not about power. Seeking leadership with the sole desire to wield power is abuse. True leadership is about asking oneself, “What I can step forward to do for others?” True leaders realize that in order to lead, one must first desire to serve.