The Lost Art of Servant Leadership

Servant Leader

Management guru Peter Drucker wrote over twenty years ago, “We have a dearth of leadership”. He prophesied the lost art of servant leadership that we face today.

Have you ever lost something very valuable? You looked everywhere but just could not find it. Do you remember how frustrating, annoying and disappointing it was? Employees of companies and citizens of countries have these same negative feelings. Yet, they are amplified by bad bosses and seemingly leaderless organizations. Study after study demonstrates how most managers fail. Others proclaim the lack of trust at record lows, worldwide.

Why Is Servant Leadership Such a Lost Art?

Think about it. There are more management and leadership books, training, and coaches than ever before. However, failure is increasing, not decreasing. Here are key factors in that:

Part of it is an increasingly complex, technology dependent and inter-connected globe. As a result, most organizations are disrupted and turned upside down. Chaos often reigns with constant change processes in place, with everything a priority. And, the lure of more money, power and influence is greater than ever. This leads to avarice and corruption at unprecedented levels.

Communication is crazy in companies. It moves at light speed because of the internet of things. However, it stalls like a car out of gas because people always seem too busy to talk to one another. So they use email, texts or mobile apps to engage others instead. It’s not the same as interacting face to face and never will be.

Leaders talk about the importance of company communication. But, they are seldom heard or available except when there are problems. James Humes said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership”. Without authentic communication servant leadership is impossible.

Employees are gaining more control in companies. It’s an employee-hiring market. Jobs are more plentiful so employees go where they find better pay, benefits and working conditions. They don’t want to put up with the stupid things some companies or managers do. Disengagement is so high in most places, can you blame them?

Finally, management jobs are tougher. There is more to do, fewer people to do it. The data analytics of many roles is a full time effort. Competition is greater and relentless.

As a result of the above, managers are overloaded with stress. So it isn’t easy, of course. It never has been.

The Coup De Grâce for Servant Leadership

Edelman’s Trust Barometer declares a polarization of trust in business, government, non-government organizations and the media globally. Trust has crashed in the US. Without trust, employees (and customers alike) won’t be loyal. They are suspicious of their company’s intention. As a result, they have little confidence they will treat them well or fairly.

What Creates the Lack of Trust?

Managers at all levels in organizations lose trust because of:

  • asking for feedback but not listening or using the ideas,
  • not providing the tools or needed training or coaching or support,
  • poor communication and working relationships,
  • no follow-through on promises or decisions,
  • mostly criticizing not praising the team or company
  • lies and false truths
  • not admitting mistakes or taking responsibility
  • lack of loyalty by managers
  • and, so the list goes on

Since managers have the greatest impact on employee performance the consequence is that overall results suffer. It isn’t surprising, is it?

Pulling It All Together

The bottom-line here is too many managers lack of integrity, character and ethics. These are the bedrock qualities for servant leadership. This is a death knell to working relationships. In addition, the four circumstances above also have created a poisonous environment where managers take shortcuts to survive. They compromise their values and ethics. For example, this was true of the scandals at Wells Fargo and Volkswagen. The end result is that leadership distrust is even more rampant and credibility fleeting.

Most experts define leadership as influence. I don’t because so much of the influence today is negative and self-serving. That’s not leadership. I believe leadership requires positive influence in a service role. Servant Leadership is about positive possibilities. It is honest, inspiring, daring, caring, courageous and visionary. Take away these characteristics and you have mediocrity, demagoguery, tyranny, despotism, and anarchy. There are servant leaders around, just not enough of them.

For the actual art of servant leadership to be practiced, the well-being of people have to be more important to those in authority than profit, personal promotion, or gain. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it brilliantly, didn’t he!

About the Author

Rick Conlow is CEO & Senior Partner of WCW Partners, a performance improvement company. Based in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, WCW works with clients in a variety of industries worldwide to help them excel in sales, service and leadership, facilitating business growth and vitality. Rick is author of Excellence in Management, Excellence in Supervision and Returning to Learning.

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