Servant Leadership Pros and Cons

Leadership hour on BlabUntil last week’s The Leadership Hour on Blab, I was of the impression that the concept of servant leadership was pretty well accepted in leadership and coaching circles as A Good Thing.

Pretty quickly into the session I found that it was not so clearcut and there were those who questioned the concept and its value.

My sense was that some people saw the concept of “servant leadership” as implying weakness and lack of decisiveness. Or they thought that was how the concept is perceived in the corporate world.

What followed was a quite spirited discussion. The following notes just highlight a few points.

So we started off with me talking a bit about the “great man theory of history”, as promoted by the great Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle: in his Heroes and Hero-Worship, published in 1840 he wrote “The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” He expounded on this using as examples people such as Pericles, Muhammad, Luther, Shakespeare, Napoleon and Rousseau. Underlying this theory is the assumption that great leaders are born, not made. The great man theory had its critics even in the 19th century, has been rather discredited by subsequent historians. The growth of the behavioral sciences in the 20th century brought the view that leadership could be studied scientifically and the skills of leadership taught and learned.

I also shared my reflection that servant leadership works better where there is a culture that values autonomy and sharing, and I mentioned an interesting article about how Spotify works in this regard.

What follows is my paraphrase. To know exactly what was said, watch/listen to the recorded session.

Sandi started a fascinating line of discussion when she shared that the concept of servant leadership can be challenging for corporates. This was especially if you saw servant leadership as being at one extreme and command-and-control at another.

Sandi worked in a company with a motto of Creativity with Humanity.

Some observations from the lengthy discussion:

When people talk about servant leadership in the corporate context, is there an assumption they are referring to employees as the ones to be served, maybe also customers? What if having a style of servant leadership with employees  means you are not serving your shareholders?

Trust is crucial if servant leadership is to work.

Pastor Terrelll shared an interesting concept of “Fellowship on Purpose”.

Fred Aubin talked about the emphasis in military leadership on consistency (the value of rules and procedures) and observed that in the private sector there is not a lot of consistency. He quoted the motto “Mission first, people always”, which I for one thought was pretty neat.

Coming up

This week we are looking at leadership and business culture – creating it, nurturing it, fixing it… If you have some experience there to share, or are just curious enough to want to listen and/or participate actively in the discussion, check the details below and come join us.

Sessions currently are at 5.45 pm Thursday Pacific time, which is 12.45 pm on Friday Australian Eastern Daylight Time (Sydney). We may experiment with that but you can always check the time by going to my Blab page – and seeing what time the session is planned for on a given week.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).