Why is servant leadership a bad idea?

Servant leadership minimises the authority of the manager and the overall management function in the company. When employees see that their boss is extremely responsive to their needs, they are less likely to see him or her as an authoritarian figure. The servant leadership bandwagon is still in motion, but it must be derailed. It is a bad idea because it is paternalistic and hinders employee engagement.

Employees can lack motivation when their boss is always stepping in, giving all the answers and coddling them. The workforce under a servant leader can become lazy, so that neither they nor the company experience the growth necessary to keep a small company in business. Servant leaders provide high levels of support to employees. For me, one of the biggest problems with servant leadership is that it fosters a dependency mentality.

Unfortunately, we want leaders we can look up to or worship, someone who will lead us to a promised land. I prefer to find, or create, my own promised land rather than depend on someone to take me there. Another problem with servant leadership is that it can make employees less motivated and, over time, produce worse results. Servant leaders are naturally prone to step in and fix problems when they occur, and this can include completing a task that an employee has not completed.

Great servant leaders often have good listening skills, a lot of empathy, the ability to develop others, good persuasive skills and global thinking skills. Servant leadership often leads to high employee engagement, highly motivated employees and a strong sense of ethics. Unfortunately, servant leadership can lead to a strong focus on individuals and consequently less focus on the real goals of the organisation. Furthermore, servant leadership is known to take a long time to establish and does not work in all organisations.

A servant leader must have little or no ego, a rare trait among leaders. Employees can lack motivation when their boss is always there to help them with their work, give them all the answers and pamper them. Unfortunately, this non-traditional approach that diminishes the vision of an authority figure can have a negative impact on employee progress. The person who shows leadership in this way may, in fact, simply be lazy and good at finding shortcuts, which others then emulate.

Within the framework set by such leadership decisions, the servant leader puts himself at the service of his people. The servant leader can become so immersed in introspection and in encouraging employees to look inward for meaning in their work that the company's results can suffer. A servant leadership model can resemble a parent-child relationship in which the manager acts to physically and emotionally care for employees. Therefore, the approach to servant leadership (like any other type of leadership) is highly dependent on the company's culture, maturity, people and the actual context.

Interesting but false Servant leadership is most interesting if it means that managers must literally serve their subordinates, or be a servant to them. A true servant leader is not paternalistic because that puts him or her at the centre of the equation. Fortunately, it is entirely possible to develop a collaborative, supportive, empathetic, engaging, empowering and developmental relationship with employees without assuming the label of extreme servant. This relies on building influence and authority rather than using control tactics and toxic leadership.

This is an unethical practice, as servant leadership should encourage employees to reciprocate, not by serving him, but by giving back to others, such as customers.

Jason Klingler
Jason Klingler

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