Greenleaf Conference: Emerging Leaders with Courtney Knies

[Authorial privilege: What brought me to her workshop was Courtney’s four years as a Bonner Scholar at Depauw University in Indiana. I was a Bonner at Carson-Newman (’95) and proud to support the efforts of another Bonner Scholar.]

Ms. Knies and her warm personality quickly drew the group into discussion around four central points.

  1. How I teach my peers about service leadership;
  2. How I learned about servant leadership;
  3. how servant leadership is/was cultivated in my life;
  4. other ways servant leadership can be taught

1. How I teach my peers

Ms. Knies introduced the topic with engaging service-related quotes on construction paper with key words covered, allowing participants to use their intuition to fill in the blank before lifting the cover to reveal the original quote.

Ms. Knies suggested another activities to introduce servant leadership, including using a flipchart and working together to define the words “leader” and “servant.” She also shared a personal self-assessment tool using Ken Keith’s seven key practices on servant leadership (from “The Case for Servant Leadership”).

Ms. Knies observed that games work with nearly any age group, as all of us have a little part of us that wants to go back to childhood – it’s often refreshing to play old games. Reflection remains central to the process. “The heart of servant leadership involves figuring it out for yourself.”

2. How I learned about servant leadership

Ms. Knies asked participants to share their stories with servant leadership and how that philosophy has become present in their practice. One participant commented about the difference between illusion and reality in servant leadership; some leaders incorrectly think they are practicing servant leadership.

Ms. Knies described her experience at Depauw University, specifically a month-long intensive course on “Classroom and Community: connecting civic engagement to real life”. “I distinctively remember [reading Larry Spears’s ten characteristics of a servant leader] and asking each other, ‘What’s special about this list?’ After reflection and identifying people with those characteristics, we realized that almost all of the people on our list had been assassinated….this clued us in to how powerful this might be, that these people became so powerful that the change they were creating was that threatening.”

3. How servant leadership was cultivated in my life

Ms. Knies provided a delightful orientation to the Bonner Scholar program, a national program committed to providing scholarships to students willing to complete over 2,000 hours of community service throughout their undergraduate career. The Bonner experience differs in implementation from campus to campus, yet the common bonds of service (and apparently some phrases such as “Bonner love”) bind Bonner Scholars.

Five “E’s” of the Bonner Program:

  1. Expectation – signing the line – making the commitment
  2. Exploration – freshman – figuring out what inspires you
  3. Experience – sophomore – focusing on your service passion; more than a volunteer, but an intern. (Ms. Knies served as a math teacher at a small Lutheran school).
  4. Example – junior – what can you contribute at a higher level? (Ms. Knies offered a anti-bullying curriculum to the school where she taught)
  5. Excellence – senior – mentoring younger Bonner Scholars; further developing skills

Common commitments of the Bonner program (these only appeared about 10 years ago)

  1. Social justice (equity) – learning to prioritize needs of the community
  2. Civic engagement – redefining communities from the frame of servant leadership; listening; building others up as future leaders, committed to a sustainable model of leadership
  3. Spiritual engagement  (as a self-reflective exercise)
  4. International perspective. Our definitions of community are changing (50 people attending this conference from 11 different countries) How can these conversations continue, and how can servant leadership create a common language?
  5. Diversity – all kinds, not just ethnic – how can servant leadership help advance those conversations?

[Authorial interruption: As a Bonner alumnus, I am proud of the program’s development. Back in the day, we were really worried about getting in our 10 hours a week. The phrase “service learning” was less than two years old when I entered the program. Now, Bonner Scholars are changing the world!]

4. Other ways servant leadership can be taught

During the discussion, Ms. Knies shared information from her senior thesis addressing the question, “How is Greenleaf’s theory of servant leadership taught in higher education?”

Her interviews included thirty individuals at different institutions. Her findings included:

  • little difference in servant leadership programs regardless of the age of the program at that institution;
  • 60% of the servant leadership programs offer a course, certificate, or degree;
  • 8% of the programs involved a cocurricular experience (like the Bonner program);
  • about 25% of the programs focused on one-time events;
  • about 50% had over 50 students involved at any time, revealing that many people are learning about servant leadership at any time.
  • 76 percent of the programs said servant leadership was the main focus;
  • 23 percent said servant leadership was presented as another model of leadership.
  • All respondents used real-life examples;
  • 81% of the programs included a reflective & responsive element.
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