Are there reasons to reject servant leadership?

Another problem with servant leadership is that it can make employees less motivated and, over time, produce worse results.

Servant leaders

are naturally inclined to step in and fix problems when they occur, and this may include completing a task that an employee has not completed. The servant leadership cart is still in motion, but it must be derailed. It is a bad idea because it is paternalistic and gets in the way of employee engagement.

Research shows that servant leaders can abuse authority and fade away in their attempt to 'lead from behind', becoming inadvertently invisible to the organisation in terms of their impact. They may retreat into the comfort of serving their employees, not wanting to engage as much with the chain (which can be the opposite of comforting) and therefore not establishing as strong a presence with their leaders. Think like an engineer, feel like an artist. Scott, I love this.

Yes, you can LEAD and still have a soul. A leader is someone who people follow, something difficult to achieve with the purest form of servant leadership. Servant leadership is about making a difference through a caring and helpful perspective. Servant leaders often attract criticism, but their motivation to do the right thing and help their team and organisation cannot be questioned.

Servant leaders work to minimise or eliminate systemic dysfunction through selfless assistance. This sounds admirable, but it is also very difficult to do and requires the leader to have exceptional people skills at all levels. Putting oneself at the service of the common good is the sign of a servant leader. Taking the pain away from the team, accepting criticism when things go wrong, gaining followers and helping the team find great ways to excel.

In Stephen Karpman's Dramatic Triangle - a social model of human interaction - criticism or, as it is called in the model, persecution, the Persecutor is one of several behaviours that appear in dysfunctional environments. The other roles, Victim and Rescuer, are also common. Service leaders must reduce conflict and minimise dysfunction, but not at all costs. Keeping everyone happy means letting people exist in their comfort zone.

Keeping people happy is a widespread criticism of servant leadership, but that view is inaccurate. A good servant leader will find ways to challenge and develop the team, building on strengths and reinforcing weaknesses. Sometimes what is good for the team is not always nice to hear, and the challenge for the servant leader is to keep teams motivated while ensuring honesty about their performance. Another disadvantage of servant leadership is that it takes time to put into practice.

The theory is based on building trusting relationships, team building and a general sense of ownership of each person in the workplace. This cannot be done in a short time. Service leaders need time to engage with workers, to know and understand what motivates them, and how they can merge the needs of the business with those of the employees to create a productive workplace. Any workplace that seeks rapid change using servant leadership will fail, and will probably have to start from scratch.

To create the teams that can solve the big, thorny problems, leaders will have to empower their people to learn, grow and innovate. As Martin Luenendonk says, "servant leadership is innate: the desire to serve is not something you instil in yourself, but a feeling that comes from within". The servant leader is first and foremost a leader, but one who uses a servant approach to achieve a result. Emotional intelligence helps servant leaders identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within a team.

Servant leadership is not for the faint of heart, despite some people's perception that it is "soft" and "indirect". When I first read about servant leadership I was a little surprised, as it fits relatively well with the way I work. If you can mix authoritarian leadership, with the right amount of democracy and coaching, and underpin it all with humble servant leadership, you will become a popular and effective leader. Empowering employees under the servant leadership model promotes alignment between their own sense of purpose and the company's core values and overall mission.

The more the cause correlates with what is good, right and true, the more it constitutes great service, and that is what servants are for. I have seen well-intentioned servant leaders not spend as much time and energy planning and executing to achieve the company's goals as they do helping individuals achieve theirs. Your idea, to me, falls under the heading of what I called "true but trivial" - that is, all sorts of supportive actions that any leadership model would agree with are labelled as servant leadership without any argument that demonstrates what makes such actions uniquely characteristic of this model while not applying to any other leadership model of Tom, Dick and Harry. A servant leader must serve by identifying and taking the right course of action to achieve a sustainable result over time.

What is needed is to show how it is preferable to other 21st century leadership concepts that make similar claims to servant leadership. Grant describes in his recent book, Give and Take, research that suggests that servant leaders are not only more appreciated than others by their employees and not only feel better about themselves at the end of the day, but are also more productive.

Jason Klingler
Jason Klingler

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