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TO: RITAQI - Servant Leadership

Author KarenSB
#1 | Posted: 29 Dec 2008 11:39 
Ritaqi - hi and welcome to the CS forum.

I read your message re: servant leadership, and would appreciate the opportunity to discuss same here.

I used to be a big proponent of servant leadership, and can easily be swayed back into the fray (at least, briefly) especially if I'm listening to Dr Kenneth Blanchard.

But I find that servant leadership is not the end-all. There are sheep and there are shepherds, and a sheep does not a shepherd make. No matter how well you herd 'em, bored sheep wander.

I absolutely do not buy-in to the Leader as Tyrant model. Been there, worked for them, and could never, ever be them.

I also do not buy-in to the Leader and Workers as Partners model. There is too much disparity among employees with regard to motivation, loyalty, willingness, IQ and EQ, etc. And what happens to the "partnership" when Leader and Worker disagree ? What happens to the "partnership" at bonus time, vacation time, payday time? If someone reports to me and I am responsible for their work output, exactly where is the 'partnership?'

So what is my model? I don't know, but it goes something like this...

...I believe that all employees are here for a reason. And though I may or may not understand or like their reason(s), I accept their existence and work within the boundaries that they may represent. (For example, a parent may need the ability to be at soccer practice every day.)

...I believe that all employees are capable adults, and that my prime directive is not as a babysitter. And I treat them as capable adults, and never, ever become a babysitter, even when that is where they want me to go.

...I believe that all employees either want to grow personally and professionally within the organization, or they do not. For those who do, my mission is clear: pave the way for them to stretch their wings and fly. For those who do not, my mission is equally clear: keep them busy and as happy with their work environment as possible.

...I believe that all employees deserve opportunities to grab for the brass ring. I don't care if you have industry experience or not, a degree or not, facial piercings or not, underarm hair or not. If you want to try something (and I cannot see where it will hurt us), I will give it the green light and sit back and watch. Sometimes weedy ideas become exotic orchids.

Maybe what I'm saying is that experience has taught me there is no one-size-fits-all leadership model. Maybe leadership is truly situational (although that thought rather scares me too, as I believe it can lead to situational ethics).

I'd really like to hear your thoughts!


Author ayaree
#2 | Posted: 31 Dec 2008 16:25 
Karen, this is pretty interesting.

I guess I have mixed notions about servant leadership. I have read about Kenneth Blanchard here, but have not ready his books or delved further. So what this means is I don't thoroughly know what "servant leadership" means. I can think of a plus and a minus side.

I learned about a person at an organization who matches your Tyrant archetype rather well. Everything I learned about the person was that they (do you like the unisex pronoun used creatively in the singular - ha ha) looked upon people at large in that organization as replaceable chattel. I do think there is something to be said about "Everyone Is Replaceable", but this person held that view to such an extreme that they made no one feel valuable at any moment, no one could feel valued in the present moment. People felt belittled, chided, toyed with. This person operated on "us vs them" distinctions and did not know how to make an effort a customer an event people can share together. Obviously, there was little good this leader did for the organization. So that person had their paddling part kicked out of the organization.

As soon as that person was removed, a different person appeared and they communicated to the organization that they would be taking time getting more closely acquainted with all areas of the company so that they (the leader) could learn from them how the company works.

I thought of the article I read - on this website - about servant leadership when I learned about this new leader emerging at that company. I immediately recognized a "servant" attitude. The leader wasn't saying they would go around and shine shoes or do their work for them, but the leader was demonstrating that they were not a higher being who had no need to know the jobs of others; the leader did need to know, and the leader needed the people in the company. And the people with less clout and responsibility would be empowered and energized by that person's request to be in a position that is not the teacher at the school, but the student. A behavior thing, indeed! I don't know if that is what I am supposed to take away from the article here about servant leadership or what K Blanchard would want, but that's how I connected to the topic. (I was also told that people's faces changed at that organization, by the way, and people would come in earlier and stay later and be present in general more often, after that change in leadership.) So that's all a good thing.

Your shepherd analogy helps me to flesh out some thoughts on the other end of the servant leader spectrum. I have taken part in company events and still do. I remember conducting myself in different ways at these functions that are meant to give people in the company a chance to feel like celebrating. One time I found myself wanting to literally be a servant and act like a waiter and make sure people had food and beverages. I put a decent amount of effort into it, telling myself I didn't need to relax, I could do this for the staff, a manager needs to "go without." But on a different occasion, I wasn't the same way, I didn't stand around with other managers and leaders in general and wait for staff in line at a buffet to go first, and I didn't do all kinds of waiter tasks. I got in the middle with everybody else and sat down and ate with people that were not leaders, and took an integrated approach. I remember seeing some managers clustered together while I had already sat down, begun eating, and integrating and getting on with the occasion. I briefly wondered to myself if I had used poor etiquette (very much like when you do something that is not the best in manners at the dining table) by not waiting and acting like I was "every other employee."

Well, I think I chose the better option on that occasion, because, when I think back and picture it, the managers clustered together (and waiting for the right moment to get in line for the buffet) looked like they were waiting for a HERD to pass. Almost like they would be able to tell when the last branded body would go by. The event was intended to bring people together and to enjoy (together) and not to find another opportunity to situate people according to an "us/them" model. But I did look for more napkins and help when somebody dropped their food (the least I could have done as a manage , I guess).

So, I think there is something to be said about not playing too many role games when you are talking about making the best situation for staff and leaders of staff to do well, all, together. I don't know that this speaks against the thrust of the "servant leadership" concept, but I think I make a point that a boss figure need not place him/herself at the very end of the line or be at the beck and call of the staff members to an extreme. People need to feel like they can make an impact of their own and don't need leaders to get in the way of that, whether it is a buffet/picnic environment or everyday work. And if you are playing the part of servant (to the point of fasting while others are lining up for plenty of food that is there for everybody), you are really only serving to point out that you are going without as a member on the "other" team, which is actually the boss team in disguise.

When I look over your points again on how you think of leadership, I can't find anything worth disagreement and not much to echo, except maybe for the one about leadership not fitting all sizes. I'm not trying to get into "situation management" or any publications on that phrase (unless I already did?? - I don't know), but I do believe you can get good results when different kinds of people are around and also from people that know to adapt to different situations. Once you have somebody with a mentality that one-size fits-all, then I think you have people that feel like they cannot get anywhere and may leave, and cliques instead of a larger togetherness.

Author KarenSB
#3 | Posted: 3 Jan 2009 12:17 

Using the definition of servant leadership (a servant leader's nature is first to serve, then to aspire to lead) I cannot help but think of a woman in Minnesota...

Mary Jo Copeland started serving the needs of the homeless, the poor, anyone in need a long time ago. She sets out basins of water and washes blistered feet every day. She provides food, clothing, shelter, comfort, compassion. Eventually she founded Sharing & Caring. (I won't expound...this is Google-able).

Her nature is nurture, and she served. She aspired to expand her form of serving/volunteerism, and founded S&C.

To think of a Fortune 500 that is led by a servant leader, I come up blank. I am willing to be wrong, but I just cannot see where it is feasible. At some point in time, there has got to be a disconnect between serving the organization and serving the shareholders (much less serving the employees).

The model (if one can call it that) that I see most employed by *popular* leaders is generally non-tyrant in Corporate, then philanthropic to a fault outside the confines of Corporate. Sir Richard Branson comes to mind, as do Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Warren Buffet.

The most visible form of servant leadership (again, my opinion) is represented by politicians. Altruistically, by nature they become empassioned to serve the needs of the constituency, then aspire to lead through elected office. An example: President-Elect Obama started as a community organizer, then ran for political office. Motivation(s) aside, this represents servant leadership at its basic core...serve first, aspire to lead.

No matter how "servant" one's attitude towards employee growth and development, there are times when the needs of the organization are in direct conflict with the needs of the employees. So, is a servant leader servant to the organization or to its employees?

I don't know that I'm leader, but I am a manager, thus I lead my team. And I like to think that I'm a pretty good manager. I care about my team, and I get the biggest kick out of watching those who want to, grow. When they make a discovery and get that light in their eyes...ah! those are the defining moments I work for.


There is today's economy. These have been stressful times, none of us know when there will be a turn-around and the uncertainty continues. My organization is impacted by the economy...whose isn't, right? I am committed to my staff; without them, the business would not run as it does. Yet I have to face the reality that to keep the organization viable, we will probably have to go through a round of lay-offs.

These people need their jobs. They have families, commitments, responsibilities. There is no other work for them in our greater community, because we all are in the same boat. What do I do? What would a servant leader do? Do I need to act in terms of the organization and save the jobs for those that I can, or do I keep all employed at the risk of everyone losing their jobs because my decision is probably fiscally irresponsible?

I have another alternative: I could walk away, and by so doing, perhaps 2 others will be able to keep their jobs. Then I put my family at risk. (You're driving down a mountain road and there are people standing on the road. You cannot stop in time. Do you drive off the cliff to your certain death, or do you choose to hit the others?)

My solution? I'm hoping to win the lotto and provide a win-win all around.

I don't have any answers, and maybe (probably?) I don't have any point in my ramblings. But these are the things that I think about, and these are the things that bring me to the beliefs I carry.



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