Give a Fish or Teach to Fish that is the Question
After reading the Lesson 11 commentary and the Northouse chapter on servant leadership I thought about a criticism of the theory that wasn’t addressed in the readings. Are servant leaders taken advantage of and in certain instances seen as pushovers rather than true leaders? If we review the basic concept of servant leadership, my definition would be a leader who does what’s necessary to ensure his followers are successful. Is this what you really want from a leader? In my opinion that answer is no, you want a leader to exhibit these “I will help you by all means” characteristics in certain situations, but not all of the time. If this is done all of the time I see this “leader” as a targeted pushover. The lesson commentary referenced the role of parenthood as an example of servant leadership. “Parents serve their children’s needs so that the children can develop into healthy adults…so that they can help their own children develop” (Lesson 11 Commentary, p. 2 Houston). For us parents out there, we know that this can be a slippery slope. If you always come to the rescue of the child, they will not learn how to overcome that hurdle themselves and you will always be their crutch. There’s a quote that’s been taken and re-phrased over that originated by Anne Isabella Ritchie in a story she wrote in the 1880’s that read, “…if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn” (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/give-a-man-a-fish.html). This has been rephrased over time to “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Isn’t this what we are ultimately dealing with here? How much service do you give before it begins to hurt the requestor? One of the 10 Characteristics of servant leadership is foresight (Northouse, 2013). Shouldn’t the leader also use this foresight to see that if they continue to remove the hurdles that will do nothing but ultimately hinder the follower? In a 2010 article of management-issues.com, author Mitch McCrimmon wrote, “The servant leadership bandwagon is still on track but needs to be derailed. It’s a bad idea because it’s paternalistic and gets in the way of employee engagement.” I would have to agree with this statement. Although it is good to help when the person really needs help, I believe it is detrimental to both parties if you continue to bail someone out time after time. Eventually, you must allow someone to fall on their sword so they can learn a life lesson that they will then never repeat; this I believe is a “commitment to the growth of people” (Northouse, 2013). As many others have done to in the past to Anne Isabella Ritchie’s famous quote, I will put my own spin on it to close this article. It’s OK to give a man a fish when he’s really in need, but if you continue to give that man a fish every time he asks for one, he will become dependent on you and will never even consider learning how to fish on his own.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (Sixth ed.). (pp. 221-222). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Penn State World Campus. (2014). Lesson 11: Servant Leadership. Retrieved July 25, 2014, from Psych 485: Leadership in Work Settings: https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/su14/psych485/002/content/11_lesson/01_page.html