Speech on Leadership

Ruth builds a case for servant leadership as both biblical and most effective.

Date of speech

My leadership bio started young. In fact, my siblings said I was a “born leader” AKA “bossy!”

Throughout my life I have served in various formal and informal positions before taking the more public position as a county commissioner and then legislator. Now I’m a philanthropy advisor leading people through the maze of high impact charitable giving.

All this brings up a good point that has been long debated, is leadership born or bred. Is it more a product of nature or nurture? I have yet to see a definitive answer and have seen a blend of both in my own life.

By nature I am inquisitive, dominant, engineer-problem solver, who always asks the question “why”. (My father insists I came out of the womb asking “why”.)

By nurture, I was heavily impacted by my parents and by my setting.

  • My parents modeled civic service and engagement even when it was uncomfortable or controversial. My dad was on the school board during integration and my mother was on the Planning Council during urbanization.
  • My setting was across the street from Little Sugar Creek, the Nature Museum, and Freedom Park. I grew up playing in and around that area when it was going through a lot of change which created in me a deep love for and curiosity about nature, open space and storm water. Later, as the schools were integrated both racially and by disability, I developed an understanding of and appreciation for the differences we all bring to every situation.

So, nature and nurture directed me toward leadership.

What eventually brought them all together and created a clearer purpose and calling was my personal Christian faith.

The Gospel of Matthew has Jesus giving us two, all-encompassing Commandments that we have all heard before, regardless of our personal beliefs, but we have probably not connected them to leadership.

  • The first is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”. I understood that to mean that an important part of loving God is that I am to appreciate all that he has made. Interestingly, one of his earliest instructions was to subdue the earth and rule over it, often called “the dominion mandate”. (Give the story of the perspective of Adam and Eve for the word “dominion.”)
  • The second commandment in Matthew is to love your neighbor as yourself. Who my neighbor is depends on my role and where I serve. As a politician, I viewed my neighbor as not only my constituents but also my colleagues and staff. I was called to love and serve them as I love and serve myself, which isn’t always easy to do, especially with enemies!!

So what do these commandments have to do with leadership, whether it’s born or bred?

There are four types of leadership commonly identified in most leadership literature. You will likely find yourself personally identifying with one of more.

  1. The first is hierarchical/positional; Positional leadership like a boss, king/queen, or legislator. The position has power and influence because it has the ability to enforce penalties against transgressor.
  2. A second form of leadership is identified by situational control; doctor, firemen, office staff. They may not have the power of enforcement, but they do have power and influence because of their ability to control a situation in such a way as to prevent/cause harm or enable/disable good. (Who do you want to rescue you from a burning building- a fireman or politician?!)
  3. A third type of classic leadership is based on knowledge and innovation, being the first. If you invent it, you have a lot of power and influence because you create or restrict opportunity. Apple and Steve Jobs, Founding Fathers and Constitution, MLK
  4. The final view of leadership that is gaining in popularity but is still less recognized classically is service, commonly referred to as "servant leadership". A servant leader gains power and influence as others see that he or she helps others and things be their best. You see this in the biblical command to love your neighbor as yourself and in numerous biblical stories, but it is also the basis of many service organizations like Rotary International (Rotaract/Interact) and an increasing number of leadership training organizations like “The Mark of a Leader”.

**Servant leadership is the only one that works with, but not against the other forms of leadership. Think about it, who doesn’t want to be with a leader that brings out the best in people and situations??

So, while nature gave me many of the skills for a capable leader and nurture gave me an interest in civic service, helping others and the environment, my faith brought them together in the leadership roles I occupied.

I decided to be a servant leader within whatever other roles I was called into.

Examples from a political service

  • (Formal title) In the legislature, as Majority Whip, Conference Leader, and campaign chair
  • My position opened doors to members because I was in formal leadership and could penalize them for lack of cooperation.
  • It also gave me opportunities to control situations because of my access to privileged information that could do good or prevent harm.
  • Yet, I often chose instead to use those opportunities to serve by helping members work through issues, develop speaking skills, resolve conflict, and avoid mistakes. (NOT as seen in House of Cards!)
  • Result? Asked to serve as 1st female Speaker of the House.


  • (Title) I am continuing the tradition of “leadership through service” as my Rotary Pres. While this does give me the classical leadership title and position, the organization has “service above self” as its mission. We focus on service at every meeting and I have also selected young and talented successors to mentor in preparation for when my term is over.
  • (No title, informal) My new career as a philanthropy advisor with EIG, I have no recognized leadership title or position but can still serve as a “servant leader”. My job is to lead donors and nonprofits so that they can do better with their resources and opportunities.

Which of the four types of leadership appeals to you most?

  • Hierarchical with ability to enforce or alleviate penalties
  • Control with the ability to master information to the good or ill of others
  • Knowledge with the ability to create or restrict opportunity
  • Service with the focus on making things or people work better

Which of the four leadership types did you support in the primary???

They all have value but I personally believe we all perform best when service is part of our leadership style.

Final word of advice.
If you want to be a leader, keep in mind that you will never entirely control the first three classic opportunities to lead, but you can ALWAYS become a leader through the fourth!

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