How To Develop Servant Leaders in The Next Generation

November 13, 2023

Each day, a greater number of Gen Zers are filling roles of influence in workplaces, communities, government, and churches.

As more young people step into leadership, we must ask the question, “What motivates the Gen Z leader?”

Gen Z lives in an era of constant Snapchat communication, daily lifestyle vlogs, reality television and Facebook Live. Our world is consumed with a desire to capture every experience so it may be recorded, shared, watched, and liked by the masses.

Where does this desperate need for our lives to be documented publicly come from? Is Gen Z really more narcissistic than past generations? Or is it possible we are setting them up to fail by speaking this over them? 

In the New York Times article “Attention Young People: This Narcissism Study Is All About You,” author Niraj Chokshi shares interesting findings. 

She says, “For more than two millenniums, older adults have claimed that their younger counterparts are uniquely self-absorbed. Young people today, it seems, agree.

That’s according to new research published on Wednesday, which found that adults between the ages of 18 and 25 believe theirs is the most narcissistic and entitled living generation.” 

“That narrative, in part, started with us,” Dr. Grubbs said. “Psychologists were the ones that talked about the narcissism epidemic to begin with.”

That idea began gaining traction about two decades ago as a few psychologists argued that historical data stretching back a generation showed that young adults had grown increasingly self-absorbed.

The news media picked up on the findings, but not on the pushback. Further research suggests that the claims may have been overblown, Dr. Grubbs said. 

The article ends with this interesting conclusion, “And whether or not they are more narcissistic than other generations, the findings suggest that, at the very least, young adults are not universally narcissistic.

Generally, people with such tendencies are more inclined to view narcissism positively. That was also true of individuals with narcissistic traits in the study. But the fact that young adults were broadly distressed by the label — and that they were unlikely to be swayed when researchers framed narcissism positively — suggests that the generation is generally not especially self-absorbed.”

At some point, leaders of every age must take a step back and ask the hard question, “Have I accidentally reoriented my leadership around achieving MY dreams, believing in MYSELF, or promoting MY agenda?”

If we want to raise up a generation of servant leaders in our churches, organizations, and ministries, we must believe they are capable of being servant leaders. 

To break free, we must redefine leadership for ourselves, embarking on the adventure of recreating our role as leaders from the inside out.

No leader has ever flipped a societal norm on its head as well as Jesus Christ. Shuffling through scripture, we are forced to confront the truth that Jesus Christ was anything but the leader the world expected him to be.

Prophecies foretold a coming king who would overthrow the Roman Empire and rescue the people of Israel. However, the cry of a newborn infant was not the battle cry the Israelites had hoped for or expected.

In the matter of a moment, leadership was redefined forever as Jesus came to earth in a posture of humility and love, communicating a truth: Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28).

Hence, the paradox of leadership. Is leadership a platform with which to gain fame, fortune, respect, and admiration? Or, taking a cue from the author of leadership, is it a grand calling for every leader to add value to the lives of the people they serve?

As a Gen Z leader, the calling of servant leadership challenges the shadow motivation behind my social, live streaming, shareable, networking leadership.

As a Gen Z leader, the calling of servant leadership challenges the shadow motivation behind my social, live streaming, shareable, networking leadership.

If we truly want to train young leaders in selfless leadership that exists ONLY to add value to the lives of the people, we must model it ourselves.  There are three steps we can take today to train ourselves in selfless leadership.

1) Reveal

To reorient our leadership, we must begin by admitting the narcissism, however small, that still exists in our heart. Admit it to yourself and talk about it with a trusted friend or mentor. Granting yourself permission to be weak often leads to greater strength.

2) Replace

Our behavior rarely changes unless we replace it with something else. It is not enough to simply hope our self-centered motives will fade away by telling ourselves, “Don’t be narcissistic.” Rather, we must give ourselves a fresh and focused calling for our leadership. Here is one to try on for size: Add value to people. Add value to their lives. Add value to their stories. Add value to their families. Add value to their work. Add value to their communities. This is a high leadership calling you can aspire to.

3) Resolve

I recently met with the pastor of a growing church in the suburbs of Chicago. As we talked about the highs and lows of leadership, I asked him, “What is the single most important quality of a great leader?” Without a second thought he responded, “Add value to your people every day.” It doesn’t always have to be some great feat or grand gesture. Rather, he resolved to be faithful in taking a simple step of obedience in the way he loved his people.

This is leadership that truly matters.

As we look to the future, it is evident that servant leadership is not just a desirable trait, but an absolute necessity. It embodies the values of empathy, humility, and a deep commitment to serving others, all of which resonate deeply with Gen Z’s vision for leadership. 

By modeling servant leadership in our churches and organizations, we not only foster an environment of trust, inclusivity, and cooperation but also empower the next generation to carry the torch forward. Through our actions as servant leaders, we can better inspire Gen Z to embrace this kind of leadership, driving positive change, and ensuring a brighter, more compassionate future for our churches and organizations.

Hannah Gronowski Barnett

Hannah Gronowski Barnett

Hannah Gronowski Barnett, founder and CEO of Generation Distinct, speaker, preacher, and author, has always been wired to abolish cultural complacency, unleash lasting justice, and join the wild adventure Jesus invites us all to live. She is also a profile speaker for The Women’s Speaker Collective and a regular writing contributor for The Global Leadership Summit. Host of The Generation Distinct Podcast and The Hannah Gronowski Leadership YouTube Channel, she has also been recognized by her community with a Leader of Youth Award for her work mentoring teens and serving refugee children through World Relief. Hannah’s latest book, Generation Distinct: Discover the Wrong You Were Born to Make Right, released on September 15, 2020.
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