The concept of Servant Leadership is truly at the core of effective leadership. If you think about it, it falls back on the old philosophy: If you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day but if you teach a man to fish you will feed him for a lifetime. Servant Leadership is about leaders giving followers what they need to be successful and empowering them to become leaders themselves (Northouse, 2016). It is a theory that has the ability to support the development of a sustainable workforce. PSU WC, L.11, 2017 notes, “The idea is that people who are developed are more able to think for themselves and therefore more able to act on their own to get the work done and therefore the leader can focus on other things.”
With the rise of purpose driven companies (Toms Shoes, Warby Parker etc.), I would argue that Servant Leadership is also riding a wave of popularity at the moment. Selflessness seems to be en vogue for leaders these days. Leaders that exhibit a Servant Leadership air get stories written about them in magazines, Oprah may interview them, 20/20 may do a special on how to become one or TED may invite them to…well…talk. Servant Leadership is the leadership equivalent of a humble brag.
Servant Leadership is described as leadership that focuses on follower impact with the idea that it will create a culture that organically succeeds (Northouse, 2016). It is so popular that I have seen leaders who are the exact opposite of a Servant Leader masquerade as one, making it very confusing for the employees who have to deal with this leader and creating a toxic environment under the guise of something deeply sincere.
Development is somewhat of a buzzword in 2016/2017, at least it was at a former company I experienced. Our Director was all about development and making sure every one of his employees took time to work on their personal development, so much so that he allocated 5 days per month for us to use towards it. This could be reading a book, taking a class, doing yoga…whatever we desired. The only problem was that his motives were not aligned with the task at hand. It was very important to him to be seen as an empathetic, Jeff Weiner or Oprah-esq leader. At the core he was a bitter man who felt threatened by anyone that disagreed or questioned his processes but to all the other departments within the corporation, they saw the thoughtfulness of him providing these 5 developmental days to his team. This earned him a platform within the organization, consulting other leaders on how to give more to their teams. However, behind the scenes his team was turning against him as he demanded we have weekly 1 hour meetings to discuss our personal development with him, group meetings were we discussed our personal development with each other and all while he was breathing down our throats to accomplish goals and spend extra hours at work to make up for the mandatory personal development days we were required to take. It was a complete morale bust and motivated by the leaders ego more so than the followers benefit.
This instance of faux Servant Leadership turned out to be detrimental to the overall morale of the team and several members exited the company shortly after. PSU WC, L.11, 2017 notes, Servant Leadership only works when a leader has altruistic tendencies and will all backfire if the leader has a different agenda and is truly focused on power or control.
The Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2017). Lesson 11: Servant Leadership. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1848444/modules/items/22449239
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Dodson, C. (2015, July 22). Why Purpose-Driven Companies Are Often More Successful. Retrieved July 23, 2017, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3048197/why-purpose-driven-companies-are-often-more-successful