Mansplaining and Servant Leadership

I was asked to clarify the connections between my writing and my work as a barrier knocker downer. The story below reflects my thoughts. The story will serve as a jumping off point for the Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connecters Table and Servant-Leader roundtable taking place in April. The story is a quick read, with a little food for thought. Comments and sharing are always welcome.

In this post:


Story: Mansplaining and Servant Leadership

Jim K. Recently shared, “I have struggled with recent topics being chosen for the Servant Leader Roundtable vs. relevance to the core Servant Leadership principles…. However, this set of topics as a “jumping off point” for a Servant Leader Roundtable discussion seems less relevant. I find myself wondering how such matters relate to spreading support for servant leadership and its principles as an effective leadership style. Perhaps I have found a learning edge of my own here.”

This is a response to Jim’s comment, posed as a follow on to Mansplaining and intersectionality, published on April 11. I welcome the opportunity to think more deeply about the work I support and the ideas I share with others. My thanks to Jim for his request for clarification.

My conversation with Alea was focused on building a space where persons with disabilities (PWD) could feel comfortable sharing stories of their own personal experiences. My explanation of how PWD can feel excluded in many environments took three phases:

  1. I provided an explanation on the assumption of ignorance of understanding of exclusion
  2. I recognized Alea’s experience as a person of color provided insights that intersect with those of the experiences of PWD
  3. I recognized the experience of disability and being a person of color have significant overlap but are not fully comparable

In summary: my ability to collaboratively conceptualize a space with someone who may/or may not understand the experiences of the people who will populate that space is limited by my ability to build a common vision of that space. Assuming ignorance demonstrates a lack of understanding of the experiences of disenfranchised people. Assuming equivalency of experience is naive on my part. I believe these subtleties may be irrelevant to a top-down leader but are likely to be important to a Servant-Leader.


Looking out at the world

Over the past 15 years I have spent time exploring the intersection of leadership and disenfranchised populations. This exploration has spanned from formal education to service on boards of directors to facilitating conversations among white people and people of color, to casual conversations with peers in the disability and/or queer community. I began incorporating the principles of Servant Leadership into my practice in 2011. These experiences have enriched me in ways I cannot fully explain.


The work of leadership

I approach the work of leadership as building community and stewardship of that community through foresight and conceptualization. Foresight is developed through the skills of listening, empathy, and awareness.

A leader relies on their own capacity of listening, empathy and awareness as key elements of foresight and conceptualization. This is especially true in understanding when and how to enlist others in engaging in the community.

Community is built through engaging with others for a common purpose. The Servant-Leader enlists others by engaging individuals who are willing and able to participate in the building/stewardship of the community and by developing individuals who are willing to engage but may not have the immediate capacity to engage in the building/stewardship of the community. The Servant-Leader is aware of the importance of (the sometimes precarious) balance of growing the capacities of individuals and allowing individuals to extend their own capacity through self-directed activities.


Conceptualizing Larry Spears’ 10 characteristics of a Servant-Leader.

Early in my Servant-Leader journey, I found Larry Spears’ 10 characteristics of a Servant-Leader to be a window into the work of Robert K. Greenleaf. I have organized Spears’ characteristics into three areas of focus:

  • Self development:
  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Awareness


  • Engagement with others:
  • Commitment to the development of others


  • Recognition of the power of healing
  • Use of persuasion over authority


  • Leadership practice:


  • Foresight
  • Conceptualization
  • Building community
  • Stewardship of community


Lessons learned

I have always lived in a diverse world. I grew up reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance”: in school. Written in 1892, by a socialist minister, the pledge speaks of a commitment to, “liberty and justice for all.” Making a commitment to liberty and justice for all, like making a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, is not always an easy path to follow. While the principles of Servant-Leadership are not challenging in theory, their application can be. Two thoughts that bring the intersection of Servant-Leadership, equity and inclusion together for me are:

  • “Awareness is not a giver of solace–it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed.” Robert K. Greenleaf
  • “We are each of us broken, and yet, we are all whole persons. It is in recognizing our brokenness that we realize our wholeness.” Dan Lococo


Applying the lessons:

Jim’s question provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the intersection of Servant-Leadership and a commitment to liberty and justice for all. I am grateful for that opportunity. The Servant-Leader roundtables and the Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connecters Tables, are opportunities to extend our level of understanding of each other through the lens of our aspirational principles.

A few of the questions that came up for me as part of my reflecting:

  • How do I recognize when I’m facing my learning edges?
  • How do I let someone know I am reaching the limits of my learning edges?
  • How do I honor the discomfort of others as they embrace their learning edges?
  • How do I honor the fact that empathy is different from having a clear understanding of the experiences of others?

We will use these questions as a jumping off point for both the Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connecters Table on April 25 and the (in-person) Servant-Leader roundtable on April 27.




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