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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Servant-Leadership and Sport Management

The phrase that monks use that for spiritual reading is lectio divina. Literally, it means divine reading, but it involves a great deal more than mere reading. It motivates the reader to achieve his/her four levels of mental activity which are information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom. The wisdom of leadership is not just what happens when you are there, it is what happens when you are not there. Characteristically, leaders must win the trust and respect of their team members. They excel at empowering task members or employees and letting them know what they do is important. A successful leader finds a way to get the job done. She/he is a team player and leads by example, both personally and professionally. Leaders find, understand, and share the knowledge. They are good communicators and motivators. Who could have all of these professional and personal leadership qualities? Although it sounds like an impossible task to perform and excel in becoming and being a sports administrator who possesses all these qualities of information, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, respect, team player, motivator, and communicator, there is now hope. That hope is found and developed through the philosophy and practice of “servant leadership.”

A servant leader has all of these leadership qualities and more. A servant leader leads by example, learning by doing and prepares a work environment for functionality, practicality, and productivity. The principles of “servant leader” are the principles of mutual human relationship.

What is a servant leadership? Servant leadership is a principle and/or a style that was formally coined by Robert Greenleaf. According to Greenleaf, servant leadership is a “practical philosophy that supports people who choose to serve first, and then lead as a way of expanding service to individuals and institutions.” (Stephen Covey, 2003). Servant leadership uses a practical and simple managerial approach for conducting business. Simplicity is opposite of complexity which usually relates with confusion. Servant leadership uses simplicity along with practicality as an important management tool for understanding of the whole. Servant leaders understand that simplicity helps people to understand the task and be smarter by serving to increase their self-confidence.

The profession or the business of sport has a global appeal and pervades all complex elements of life. Sport has the ability to transcend all social and cultural categories. At its center, sport means health, entertainment, sociability, and personal athletic achievement. The complexity of sport profession does not end in here. What each consumer sees in a sport is quite subjective, making it extremely difficult for the sport manager and marketer to ensure a high probability of consumer satisfaction. Managing sport business is not the same as managing and/or marketing a soap and shampoo business. Typically a sport consumer is also a producer. By nature sport management is a unique and complex profession. However, it can be simplified and glorified by the use of servant leadership decision-making process.

Only by understanding and appreciating the context in which decisions are made can sport administrators make and implement meaningful decisions. Confucius suggests that “To know that we know what we know…” is the only half of the maxim. “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is real knowledge.” (David Mass, 2000). Decision-making comes out of knowledge, and knowledge is dangerous if it is only half of the process. Servant leadership decision-making is the process of selecting and implementing alternatives consistent with organization’s goal(s). Servant leaders work and decide with the team members. Servant leadership encourages collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment. After all, decisions are what move the organizations either closer to or farther away from goal attainment. Therefore, a servant leader constantly and consciously involves and engages the team members in their decision making process to make the right decisions to determine the success of the entire organization.

On the other hand, from a realistic point of view, one has to realize that despite of the constructive intentions of servant leader and the cooperative nature of servant leadership, the decision making process by its nature is an autocratic behavior. Solutions to the issues may be reached by the collective efforts of the team members either through negotiations or through consent, but eventually the decision will be applied or rejected by the leader. For this reason, it is safe to say that the decision-making is more of an art than a science. It is an artful thinking process in which includes use and appreciation of human culture at local, national, or international levels.

By choice servant leaders are uniquely artful at using intuitive sensations to choice dilemmas. Servant leaders understand and appreciate the psychosocial, socio-cultural, and demographic differences of their work force and the business environment. They are, therefore, able to minimize the impact of autocracy in their decision-making strategies. Whereas, leaders who prefer to lead by scientific and/or global management mottos might be overseeing the existence of regional and national socio-cultural values from a one-dimensional perspective. This perspective implies that one type of administrative decision making can fit for all rather than considering the impact and unique individual cultural differences in the work environment. According to Robert Greenleaf, “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test of decision making, and challenging to apply, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged society; will they benefit from the made decision, or at least will they not be further isolated” (Greenleaf, Servant As Leader, 1970).

A considered servant sport leader understands that she/he is in an organization for the purpose of serving and supporting people and the society. Servant-leaders realize and conceive that the core of any organization is its staff. As organizations and society change with the flux of new technologies, demographics, and cultures, the world moves closer to becoming a true global community. How effectively an organization maintains a quality team of employees is linked to its ability to adopt and use the philosophy of servant leadership.

Sport business world is experiencing a transformation which will change the concept and the idea of how we conduct the business. As sport-entertainment business continue to grow, the number of people from all age groups, socio-cultural backgrounds, and income levels will increasingly seek for services of sport industry. In order to be competitive sport-entertainment business owners pressured to be conscious about environmental surroundings of business. They have to be more service oriented, hospitable, and less mechanical. It is the matter of leadership and servant-leadership that can be the answer. Only by understanding culture, the environment, and appreciating the context in which decisions are made can leaders make and implement meaningful decisions. Servant-leadership is the leadership and administration philosophy that sport-entertainment business leaders can use and simplify the complex nature of their highly competitive business for success.


Covey, S.R. (n.d.) What is servant leadership? Retrieved September 27, 2003, from http://www.greenleaf.org.au/main.htm

Mass, F.D. (n.d.) Servant leadership: Practical meekness. Retrieved September 27, from http://cgg.org/index.cfm/page/literature.articles.0907ra.htm

Greenleaf, K.R.(n.d.) Servant as leadership. Retrieved September 25, 2003, from http://www.greenleaf.org/leadership/servant-leadership/What-is-Servant-Leadership.html