Why Isn’t ‘Servant Leadership’ More Prevalent?

Summing Up: After plowing through an unusually full inbox of reader e-mails, Jim Heskett wonders whether the term "servant leadership" is an oxymoron?
by Jim Heskett

Summing Up

Is the Term "Servant Leadership" an Oxymoron?

Servant leadership (SL) is a concept that triggers a great deal of interest, judging by my e-mail inbox and the number of responses to this month's column. Many comments suggested that: (1) servant leadership is practiced by many respondents, (2) it works, and (3) there are a number of reasons why others don't or can't practice it. Timothy Lynn Burchfield provided an eloquent endorsement of the concept this way: "Those who serve (vs. power or buy) their way to influence leave a huge legacy to those around them."

Servant leadership is experienced so rarely because of trends in the leadership environment, the scarcity of human qualities required, demands that the practice places on the practitioner, and the very nature of the practice itself.

As Tahir Quzi put it, "A majority of leaders as agents of principals see themselves as maniacally focused on getting short term results …" Napoleon Elortegui commented that "… the organizational model is not geared to move the 'servant' person to the top." It can produce a "culture where leadership is associated with codes like power, selfishness & control," according to Ranji Cherian. As a result, SL was characterized as "… a risky proposition … within organizations…" (John Servant) and … a long and hard road for someone" (Karan Yaramada). Dan Wallace asked, "Where do you go to learn how to lead this way?"

Several commented that SL requires qualities that are all too rare, such as "cardinal virtues" (Katherina Lange), a "paradoxical combination of courage AND humility," (Lisa Slayton), "(a) high degree of self control… " (Ashok Jain), and "validation needs (that) have largely been met … (making it) very challenging for younger people to be servant leaders" (Mike Gatliff). Personal characteristics that get in the way of SL include "Ego (that) makes it difficult to 'want to serve'" (Randy Hoekstra), "greed" (Madeleine York), and "An unhealthy desire to control" (Judesther Marc).

The very nature of servant leadership may influence its spread, according to David Livesley, who said, "Even if it is more prevalent than we think, we will never hear about it; what we never hear about, we never copy." Steve Hickman added, "… it is a recessive organizational gene… You don't get promoted if you don't get noticed." Christy commented that "SL is not prevalent because it is a Utopian approach that requires a complete paradigm shift for most modern day employees at any level." Tom Leahy said "… it is exhausting but also fulfilling," while Myrielle Lemoine attributed its rarity to "everyone from all levels being stretched too thin…" Several (including John Keck, Michael Darmody, and Mona Bagot) subscribed to the idea that SL can be perceived as a weakness. Anna Caraveli had an interesting take on this notion: "… there is a great deal of ambiguity in defining what strong leadership means … interestingly, the 'servant' concept is not considered 'weakness' when applied to a company's relationship with clients…"

As it has evolved in use, the term itself may pose an obstacle for the concept. That's the view of Mark Stanley, who commented that "These terms do not fit together-Servant & Leader … It's just another way poor leaders attempt to elevate themselves above those they 'serve'… an entirely unhealthy approach for a leader to take… Our need to be led well is far more important than our need to be served. The more correct notion is that of a 'Serving Leader' … (with) many 'masters'… when Richard Greenleaf coined this phrase … he was talking entirely about how leaders serve, not about leaders being servants." Do you agree? Is servant leadership an oxymoron? What do you think?

Original Article

Servant leadership is an age-old concept, a term loosely used to suggest that a leader's primary role is to serve others, especially employees. I witnessed a practical example of it at a ServiceMaster board meeting in the 1990s when CEO William Pollard spilled a cup of coffee prior to the board meeting.

Instead of summoning someone to clean it up, he asked a colleague to get him cleaning compound and a cloth, things easily found in a company that provided cleaning services. Whereupon he proceeded to get down on his hands and knees to clean up the spill himself. The remarkable thing was that board members and employees alike hardly noticed as he did it. It was as if it was expected in a company with self-proclaimed servant leadership.

Lao-Tzu wrote about servant leadership in the fifth-century BC: "The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware…. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, 'We ourselves have achieved it!'"

It is natural, rightly or wrongly, to relate servant leadership to the concept of an inverted pyramid organization in which top management "reports" upward to lower levels of management. At other times it has been associated with organizations that have near-theological values (for example, Max De Pree's leadership at Herman Miller, as expressed in his book, Leadership is an Art, that emphasizes the importance of love, elegance, caring, and inclusivity as central elements of management). In that regard, it is also akin to the pope's annual washing and kissing of the feet as part of the Holy Thursday rite.

The modern era of servant leadership began with a paper, The Servant as Leader, written by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. In it, he said: "The servant leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead … (vs. one who is leader first…) … The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons … (and become) more likely themselves to become servants?"

Now it appears that a group of organizational psychologists, led by Adam Grant, are attempting to measure the impact of servant leadership on leaders, not just those being led. Grant describes research in his recent book, Give and Take, that suggests that servant leaders are not only more highly regarded than others by their employees and not only feel better about themselves at the end of the day but are more productive as well. His thesis is that servant leaders are the beneficiaries of important contacts, information, and insights that make them more effective and productive in what they do even though they spend a great deal of their time sharing what they learn and helping others through such things as career counseling, suggesting contacts, and recommending new ways of doing things.

Further, servant leaders don't waste much time deciding to whom to give and in what order. They give to everyone in their organizations. Grant concludes that giving can be exhausting but also self-replenishing. So in his seemingly tireless efforts to give, described in the book, Grant makes it a practice to give to everyone until he detects a habitual "taker" that can be eliminated from his "gift list."

Servant leadership is only one approach to leading, and it isn't for everyone. But if servant leadership is as effective as portrayed in recent research, why isn't it more prevalent? What do you think?

To Read More:

Max De Pree, Leadership is an Art (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1987)

Adam Grant, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (New York: Viking Press, 2013)

Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader (Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, 2008)

C. William Pollard, The Soul of the Firm (New York: HarperBusiness and Grand Rapids, MI: ZondermanPublishingHouse, 1996)

    • Taieb Hafsi
    • Professor, HEC Montreal
    I come from an Eastern culture. When I was a kid (say 50 years ago) my mother used to say:"if you serve the others, you're their master!" The idea was that you would have to shape yourself in ways that would make your a better person! We took that with a grain of salt and would rarely volunteer to serve the others, but the saying stayed with us, and had a deep effect on our internal sculpture. The problem with theory is that by nature it is a simplified view of the world. Servant leadership and its effects has some truth in it. Pushing it too far in our relationship with others and in leading them, may lead to disaster. By the way my mother also said: "the best is in the middle!"
    • Tahir Qazi
    • CEO, iQuasar
    Two possible reasons: 1) An overwhelming majority of leadership examples that are highlighted are about decisions the leaders make, the crises they avert, and results they get. The focus is generally on such results and not necessarily on their styles. In the minds of promising young individuals, this creates an image of leader as a decider/executer rather than leader as a giver/nurturer - and hence an assumptive style to emulate. 2) A majority of leaders as agents of principals see themselves as maniacally focused on getting short term results for their principals and hence they forget to see themselves as serving the employees for the long term results.
    • Mark Matheson
    • Adjunct Professor, Southern Virginia University
    Why are there not more servant leaders? Because it takes great personal effort to overcome our natural selfishness and desire to dominate by controlling others. Very few leaders can exert the humility and self discipline to govern only "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love un-faked."
    • Enwemuche Maxwell Onyemaechi
    • Head,Customer Service Unit,Ecobank Nigeria Ltd,Umudike,Nigeria, Ecobank Nigeria Limited
    Servant Leadership is not prevalent in the world because leaders do not see themselves first as servants but as leaders who must be served. Hence, the concept of true leadership becomes elusive. If embraced fully like true democracy, great institution will emerge as great ideas will come forth from ??? so called junior staff that will turn the organisation around.
    • Gary Meller
    • CEO, CommSense, Inc
    Robert Townsend, in his 1970 management bestseller "Up the Organization" describes why he does not like HBS grads. They lack "humility, respect for people on the firing line, deep understanding of the nature of the business and the kind of people who can enjoy themselves making it prosper; respect from way down the line; a demonstrated record of guts,industry, loyalty down, judgement, and honesty under pressure."
    These are the attributes that servant leadership requires. Not a great match. While there are many counter examples, the characterization is fair, if overdrawn. Prof Heskett has never lost sight of these values. Thank you.
    • N H Rao
    • Joint Director, National Academy of Agricultural Researsrch Managment
    For servant leadership to be effective, it must be anchored on strategic insight . Servant leadership then is more about enabling others in the organization towards accomplishment of the targets and goals.
    Perhaps this combination of strategic thinking and servant leadership is difficult to find in the same individual.
    • Dennis Nelson
    • Risk Manager & Internal Control Officer, SFS
    Servant Leadership is not more prevalent because it is understood by too few; its return on investment and time needed for returns is beyond too many peoples' perceptions and willingness to invest; it's counter cultural in America; it is role modeled too infrequently; it's implementation is beyond too many peoples' capabilities; it's "too different"; it's counter intuitive; it seems too religious; mentorships and journeyships aren't offered; it is too little recognized and rewarded; its practitioners are too humble to promote it; too many factions are willing to take advantage of it; its rewards are primarily intrinsic; it's a change - and until the perceived threats of continuing as is become more frightening than the perceived threats of the change, the change won't occur.
    • David Livesley
    • Director, Ottery Consulting
    I think the answer lies in your quote from Lao-Tzu above:
    "The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, 'We ourselves have achieved it!'"

    Even if it is more prevalent than we think, we will never hear about it; what we never hear about, we never copy.
    • Neha Patel
    • Director of Technology, Liberal Public Schools
    Servant leadership requires patience and ability to foster internal motivation in others, creativity to empower those being led, selfless motives, and an ability to give up credit for the work you have inspired "led" others to do. All of these characteristics are against human nature and require conscious decision making.
    • Ashok Jain
    • Freelance Consultant, Hope Learning Solutions
    Servant leadership can be effectively practiced only by those who have high degree of self control. A high degree of psycho-social evolution or SQ is a prerequisite. People belonging to this category are not abundant. This explains why very few practice it. Obviously it is not prevalent because it isn't every one's cup of tea.
    • Phillip Clark
    • Clark & Associates
    Ego and Stupidity to put it bluntly stands in the way of having more servant leadership in the workplace. Normally, I am not so blunt but after 50 years in the workforce I am becoming old and crotchety about this discussion.

    Let's look at the issue. The "I'm more important than you" leadership usually limits performance and innovation because everything goes through a single control point the leader. The leader has to be always informed, has to give permission, always has "the best ideas" and focuses only on performance goals that make him, not necessarilty the company, look good. That creates a huge bottleneck on the performance of the leader's employees.

    A servant leader, focused on getting the most from his or her employees, empowers and trains their employees to do their job, without the "mother may I" albatross hanging around their neck. The servant leader sends the employees working on the project to meetings and links them with resources to do their job. That way the employees can do their job without having to go through the single choak point "the leader". This type of leader is not loaded with meetings because his or her staff are doing the job. It no longer is about ego but performance. What really is an eye opener is seeing the servant leaders influence explode throughout an organization since they seem to be everywhere. When really it is their influence being expressed by their entire staff at multiple points in the organization at the same time. Bottom line...hire right, support effectively, expect performance....and you will get it.

    As a leader...do not become the choak point in your organization. How can you tell? Are you going to too many meetings where you have to followup and pass information to others? Are you overworked with too many interruptions from employees? Are you demanding deadlines to meet goals instead of having work appear on your desk completed? Are your employees happy and getting promoted? If not, take a close look in the mirror.
    • Armando Vela
    • CPA, Armando Vela, CPA
    This may be a bit too spiritual for the practical, business-oriented souls reading this (I'm a Catholic in Texas, by the way). As wonderful and useful as it sounds, I too believe, however, this servant-leader model isn't more prevalent because our culture continues to evolve toward primarily seeking material gains, the "what's in it for me, right now" generation. Unfortunately, this feeds our overall inability, on both a business and spiritual level, to connect and engage with our peers, colleagues, families and yes, customers & clients.
    • Gary A
    • General Manager
    One problem is our continuing veneration of sports and military leadership portrayed in movies - often the only leadership training model people have seen.
    • Steve Hickman
    • Principal Scientist, Honeywell
    If you want to know why servant leadership isn't more prevalent, look at how organizations promote. You don't get promoted if you don't get noticed. Servants don't get noticed because they allow others to get credit. It is extremely rare to find anyone with power who will take the time to find those who don't toot their own horn. Further, it is a recessive organizational gene. People who want power fight for it - servants don't. Therefore, the power hungry are more likely to get power and less likely to give it up.
    • Christy
    • Marketing, Manufacturing
    Servant Leadership is not prevalent because it is a Utopian approach that requires a complete paradigm shift for most modern day employees at any level. This way of relating needs to become part of the culture when children are young, as with teacher-student relationships, and even parent-child relationships. When institutions instill a hierarchy for relating to leadership, people become conditioned to expect leaders to play specific roles. Introducing a new way of thinking would be difficult in western societies and even more difficult in many other countries where your role defines whether a colleague is even permitted to make eye contact with a superior. I think servant leadership is a wonderful idea, but unconventional. If made mandatory today it would be highly rejected by the majority of leaders in most cultures for political reasons and because it would require enormous amounts of training and reeducation for all involved. I
    ntroduce this concept into primary education institutions and develop new leaders from the most early phases in individual development. Then it would become more prevalent.
    • Thelma
    I believe that the most effective School Principals are servant leaders
    Their job is to support their teachers so that the teachers can grow and implement change and that is what benefits kids.
    Principals who do such things as covering a class so that the teacher has time to put a new method into place in the classroom, and then helping the teacher to measure the effect of that change on student learning, are making the biggest impact as educational leaders.
    • Stephen Cooper
    • Vice President / Board Chairman, MTE Consultants
    I am a consulting engineer that works closely with clients and project teams in the design of buildings. The most effective and respected managers that work with me tend to be servant leaders. They focus on what needs to be done and they are willing to roll up their sleeves and get it done. These are the people I try to move up the organizational ladder.

    One problem - The servant leader can often struggle with delegation. The "do-it-yourself" style of person requires other leadership skills and discipline to reach their full potential. This can be achieved through a combination of training and work experience to build confidence.

    There is also a dark side that can exist within many organizations. Junior level servant leaders can get stuck below mid-level managers that take credit for their work. As a senior manager within an organization you must learn to identify the leadership skills of junior staff and build opportunities for them to grow within your organization. Otherwise, they will leave your organization or (even worse) become stagnate.
    • David Charles
    • Professor, University of Strathclyde
    I agree that in many types of organisation a core role of the leader is to serve, and mentoring and developing the capabilities of everyone in the organisation is a key element of that. I think we need to be clear though on what we mean by service though. I wasn't convinced by the example of a CEO cleaning up his own coffee spill, to me that is just good manners. In just the same way a manager might make coffee for their secretary if they are busy with something. If we think this is something special we are just forgetting how mature and civilised people should behave. We need to focus on more fundamental service roles where a leader sees their role as helping others in their organisation to realise their potential and to improve the performance of the organisation.
    • Mike Easley
    • CEO, Powder River Energy Corporation
    I don't see how a serious discussion on Servant Leadership can exclude the work of Ken Blanchard.

    Servant Leadership is serious business and I think the Ken Blanchard Executive MBA program is model for the servant leadership movement.

    The book Leading at a Higher Level by Ken Blanchard is also a great resource.

    True and lasting high level of employee engagement is a natural outcome in an organization that embraces Servant Leadership. Employe engagement is the the most effective way to become and remain a High Performing Organization.
    • Oscar A Pinochi
    • Life & Executive Coach - Trainer, oap Coaching&Training
    "To serve" is a nice verb in our language. It's also considered a great action in life. I myself say that my mission is to serve in terms of accompanying others to develop what they have decided to. But, -and here comes the "but"-, serve many times can be considered as a wrong attitude. Many, many examples can be written. Just one: a boss trying to clean his employee's shirt -or coat- after spilling some coffee on it.
    Servant leadership, in my opinion, can be a marvelous way of leadership while taking care of all aspects that have to be with teamwork model, acting congruently with words about service, and respecting each other as another valid person.
    I agree with Adam Grant's opinion: "... a serve leader spends a great deal of their time sharing what he has learned and helps others to develop themselves suggesting ideas or recommending new ways of doing things". Letting they suggest their own ideas and taking them into consideration makes their leader a Serve Leader and a Great Person too. And this last role is always first.
    I believe that, as if you say, this way of leadership is not every day way of doing things; it must be a serious job to do by many leaders who want to be recognized seriously as Great Leaders. One first thing we can do is change the way we show organizational charts. If we draw employees under leaders, we are giving them the message that they have to serve us because we are upon them.
    Thanks for letting me express my opinion, knowing it's just my opinion.
    • Randy Hoekstra
    • Consultant, QUEST Productions
    Why isn't servant leadership more prevalent? Two reasons, I think, 1) Ego makes it difficult to "want to serve." And 2) A lack of understanding that the value of information and knowledge increases when shared.
    • Napoleon Elortegui
    One likely reason we do not see a lot of this type of leadership is that the organizational model is not geared to move the "servant" person to the top. Like it or not most organizations continue to operate with the German organizational model developed for the industrial revolution. This model with "very clear" lines of responsibility and authority is not likely to recognize or promote the "power sharing" servant leader. Even in academic institutions with traditional processes to teach and reward students the servant leader is rare. It would be a welcome change to have the leader be at all levels of the organization, where they could champion the needed changes. But getting from an overtly structured to a flexible power organization, where everyone is encouraged to both lead and serve, is a VERY difficult change in culture (because those in charge have to trust). The question and effort needs to be
    "How do we get there". I suggest we have to start with the schools making the change first.
    • Timothy Lynn Burchfield
    • Owner, Chick-fil-A
    Good word James.
    Choosing to live your life last is not second class leadership. I have done it for 30 years.
    This is true leadership and a path to influence that cannot be easily explained. Some people power their way to influence. Some buy there way to influence. Those who serve their way to influence leave a huge legacy to those around them.
    • Ming Yaw Loo
    • Principal, Mayflower Secondary School
    I think it is not as prevalent because most leaders are not naturally inclined to serve others. The assertion from Greenleaf sounds good but it is very difficult to practice and even more challenging practicing it consistently. I feel the other reason is the perceived dichotomy between serving and leading in the minds of leaders.
    • Joseph Toelle
    • Facilities & Engineering, TCDI - The Camp Doctor, Inc.
    Cross referencing the spilled coffee by CEO Wm. Pollard - POTUS R. Reagan spilled the famous jar of jelly beans in the Oval Office. He also went to his hands and knees to clean up.
    • Brian
    • Owner, BNZ Industrial Support
    Respecting the 'servant' depends on the context and to an extent, on surrounding culture and history of the employees. I have my own company in the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. The history of servitude identifies that role as for the vanquished, not the conquerer. Thus, if a 'leader' here shows too much deference or 'servitude' that individual is viewed as weak. However, it is an experiment in management that I may try.
    • Deaver Brown, HBS 68
    • Publisher & CEO, Simply Magazine
    Timely. A must read just as his book, Service. Boards should consider this at the top of their list when hiring CEOs. Peter Drucker also wrote about this Ina related way.
    • Grant Evans
    • OD Manager, Public Health Wales
    It does not appeal to the typical western egoic leadership mindsets of destructive creativity, power through hierarchcal position, self foremost, etc.

    Its premised on more eastern philosophical propositions such as flourishing, abundance, transience etc.
    • Matthew DiGeronimo
    • Senior Managing Director, Smith Floyd M&A
    Please it is difficult! We all know that a 95 mph is difficult to hit . . . so why don't more pitchers throw one. Not all leadership facets can be applied equally through reading/preparation, there are certain personality types that can effectively pull off the most sophisticated leadership styles . . . and these personality types are few and far between. imo
    • Anonymous
    Citing CEO William Pollard as an example of servant leadership was good but how about the greatest of all...Jesus Christ? Christ's entire life was dedicated to serving others as a leader.
    • Ed Nickle
    • Director, United World Mission
    I have read down the list of comments and got a whole group of opinions. Some get it others...well maybe some day. Goal of a servant leader is to help others to get where you want them to be. This is not another strategy to get people to do what you want because that will never work. And if it does work it will be only for a short period of time. It is WHO you are. By being a servant leader you are modeling to your people of who they are suppose to be to their subordinates. Servant leadership means not only to subordinates but to all you touch life with.
    • Dr. Phil Harris
    • Founder and Principal, Acclaimed Professionals Group
    Too many CEOs operate from the top down because they came from within organizations where they served as managers, not leaders. The organizations rewarded these people because of their skills not because of their leadership ability. Oftentimes, company leaders do not understand the difference between leaders and managers and continue to lead as managers (from the top down) instead of developing true leadership skills. Many CEOs truly need leadership training. My father always use to say, "you get more with sugar than you do with salt."
    • Paul Dulaney
    1. Servant Leadership is abnormal: "And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant" Luke 22:25-26.
    2. Most people get into positions of power so that they can receive and be served, not so they can give and serve. Simply put, servant leadership is not prevalent because the desire to serve is not prevalent, and leaders as a group -- by self-selection -- have even less of a desire to serve than others.
    • Mark D. Hulett
    • Sr. Website Developer / Website Designer, Georgia Web Development http:/gawebdev.com
    Very refreshing to see this enlightening model of leadership presented here.

    While very effective this method I feel is sometimes perceived as counter-intuitive by many that are in leadership roles.

    It's all about getting one's ego out the way so to speak. Seriously, it really is. The paradox is that when one implements this attitude of "service" towards people it's very empowering. You're much more likely to be successful at whatever the agenda is. Whether it's getting your team to embrace a new marketing strategy or recommitting themselves to a business policy you feel they've strayed from it works.

    It will become the new paradigm in great leadership simply because it works when most other leadership styles fail.
    • M S S Krishnan
    • Maj Gen, (retd), Indian Army
    Servant Leadership is a concept practised from time immemorial, but only by ENLIGHTENED KINGS (LEADERS). The principles of Servant Leadership as enshrined in the works of Chanakya, Lao Tzu and others exhort the rulers to consider themselves first as Servants of the masses. But how many kings and leaders have realised the virtues of such an approach to leadership?

    Prof Jim Heskett has raised a very valid question as to why this Leadership style is not popular. It is perhaps the anxiety to meet targets, increase profits, reduce costs, modernise, reengineer, expand and make token contributions towards CSR that keeps our corporate leaders always on the fast track. If Servant Leadership is to gain acceptance as another style of leadership, then today's leaders must learn to be more Humble. Humility alone can nurture a more meaningful relationship between the leader and the led. Unfortunately, the aggressiveness that is promoted in most organisations makes their leaders insensitive to the principles of Servant Leadership. I do agree that Servant Leadership may not succeed in all situations, but it does warrant a fresh look.

    Prof Heskett deserves praise for rekindling interest in this long forgotten style of leadership. It would be wise to take it forward by the Business Schools
    • Stuart Domijan
    • Product Manager, Holcim Mauritius
    I guess servant leadership is one style of management among others. Like all styles of management it is inherent to one's personality and greatly influenced by the leaders background and influences. For this type of leadership to work their needs to be a synergy between the style of leadership and essence of the leader, if that is not the case the leader cannot and will not succeed.

    Since I can assimilate to this type of leadership, I believe that the leader should strive to create the ideal atmosphere and working conditions for all its employees to succeed. Putting your employees on orbit often requires uplifting the employee's spirits, motivating them and trying to get all the petty things out of the way for them to concentrate on the essential, getting the job done.

    Like all styles of management it has its pros and cons and is more adapted to certain situations than others.
    • John N
    • Servant, Client Support, Global Health Information Company
    The practice of servant leadership within organizations is a risky proposition, and while effective in its results often becomes a liability for the practitioner. My personal experience has been enlightening in this regard, having served in some organizations where this approach was valued and others where it was dismissed. There is a mental model within an organization's culture that defines the expected behavior of its leaders, which - regardless of the results achieved - becomes as important, if not more important in assessing value delivered by the servant-leader. Those who choose to adopt this effective but unconventional style must be very aware of the culture in which it is practiced. While the results reached can be impressive, the style (as I have directly experienced on two occasions) can result in a negative outcome to the servant-leader personally.
    • Hugh Quick
    • Home, None
    I thought that the best 'boss' that I ever had was so because he cared what happened to me. He was rough, outspoken and sometimes crude but he cared.
    • Robert Flack
    • CEO, Locala Community Partnerships CIC Ltd
    Servant leadership can be the most transformational tool any leader uses as it puts humility and honesty at its very centre. The challenge is to challenge youself - every day - to understand if you have behaved as a servant leader. Agree with the comments already made that servant leadership really is about behaviours and not all about decisions
    • Thoko Mkavea
    • CIBO, CDH Investment Bank
    Why there are no servant leaders? Servant leadership requires absolute competence and a high level of self mastery. Remove these, you have a leader who will impose himself, delivers incoherent directions and has personal interests overshadowing common good. In those cases, employees are left with no option but to look to themselves and their families for motivation to move on.
    • Ravindra Edirisooriya
    • Analyst, Programmer and Consultant 05/02/13, Edirisooriya Business and Management Services
    The question "Why Isn't 'Servant Leadership' More Prevalent?" has a "blindingly" simple answer: It is our economic model, free market capitalism and norms enshrined in the constitution. (Should it be preserved or interpreted in modern terms?) All points to unfettered profit making even above ethics and morality. The underlying question is in whose eyes should the CEO be successful? Is it the employees, CEO or the Wall Street? According to Professor Heskett, the organizational psychologists have assumed employees, firstly, feeling better (good) about themselves (CEOs' self preservation / actualization), secondly and being more productive thirdly. With respect to free market capitalism the order is reversed: Being more productive, firstly, feeling better (good) about themselves (CEOs' self preservation / actualization), secondly, and employees, thirdly. It is a "blindingly" simple answer. Isn't it?

    Help yourselves to free goods (ideas) while supplies last! Costs are (not obvious) absorbed by others.

    Ravindra Edirisooriya

    Analyst, Programmer and Consultant 05/02/13

    Edirisooriya Business and Management Services
    • Scott Roudebush
    • Quality Manager, Parker- Hannifin
    I certainly hope that those who work for me recognize at least in part that I am trying to be a servant leader. I have definitely seen my share of those who are not.
    I believe what is at the root of why some are or are not servant leaders is a simple issue of motivation, self or the cause. Is this person only here for themselves at all costs or is this truly a great team member who feels their success comes only after the team's success? That is the basic question that begins the path of servant leader or not.
    • Ben Simonton
    • Leadership/Engagement Coach, 34 years managing people, Simonton Associates
    Why not more prevalent? Simple! Society only teaches us the authoritarian model (command and control) through parents, teachers, churches, media, government, and finally bosses.

    Those of us who are best at command and control rise to the top not realizing the damage we have done to our employees in terms of stress, frustration, and being continually treated with disrespect OR the loss of productivity, innovation, and creativity we have caused. As a command and control type, I did not realize I was creating all this damage until I changed to listening and responding to my people. And I loved the 300% performance gains that resulted from my change.
    • Garth
    • Trustee, TBBT
    Isn't Ricardo Semler of Semco a real-life example of servant leadership in practice?
    • Michael P. Hamer
    • Author, Book: Selling God's Way
    Servant leadership is the best way to lead. The sad truth is most leaders don't realize that we're always serving something as we lead. A famous man, Jesus, once said that no one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. Jesus also said that the greatest among us will be our servants. So if we want to be great at business, we have to be great at serving. Knowing that our level of success lies not in the number of people we sell, but in the number of people we serve. For more see my book "Selling God's Way" or visit my website at sellingGodsway.org
    • Karan Yaramada
    • CEO, Jade Global, Inc.
    Leadership is situational and we can't say the servant leadership works in every situation. You must be a role model as a leader to inspire and motivate masses. It takes a long time for people to recognize a servant leader. In modern world, technology and media is playing a big role in making instant heroic leaders. In hierarchical societies, servant leadership might work only in the context of social justice. It is a long and hard road for someone to be a true servant leader. But the history shows that most of today's instant leaders are tomorrow's disgrace.
    • Murali P
    • Staff Member, Omega Smart Solutions
    Most companies look for Leaders who take decisions, and promote them. Servant Leaders who enable others to take decisions are considered weak, ineffective and are weeded out. The Servant leaders usually get stuck in the middle levels of the organization with their seniors piggy-backing and taking credit for the achievements.

    While companies do not recognize and reward internal Servant Leaders, they hire External consultants as Coaches and Mentors, whose jobs are similar. The Coach/Mentor is expected to serve the employees by widening their horizons, enabling their thought process to take better decisions. However, companies do not persist with these measures long term, and the coaches /mentors are the first ones to be shown the door when there are cost pressures.
    • Michel Hogan
    • Brandology
    I think the model of servant leadership is also contained in Jim Collin's Level 5 leadership idea. Ambitious first for the organisations, translates into the kind of humility that drives servant leadership. It is rare, perhaps because there are few who can look past their own ambitions, but powerful when it happens as seen by the success of organisations who benefit from those leaders.
    • Judesther Marc
    • Director of Financial Analysis, Credit Union
    I think there are a few reasons:
    1. An unhealthy desire to control others
    2. A misguided attempt at self preservation
    3. Poorly set cultural expectations.

    1. A servant leader must allow those he or she leads to disagree (respectfully) with his or her position and to make mistakes even if that mistake is a result of the disagreement. This will give the leader an opportunity to serve by teaching and bringing the follower back to the goal or vision of the organization. Unfortunately there is a tendency to try and control other's actions and thoughts.
    2. Often leaders will stifle innovation and growth in an attempt to preserve their position. They don't want to look bad because someone else had a better idea or knows of a better way. This makes it difficult if not impossible to serve or give to your followers as they would only improve in knowledge and understanding.
    3. Lastly, organizational culture and history can create an atmosphere where servant leadership is not rewarded or valued by those at the very top thus making difficulty for leaders in middle to be servant leaders or promote servant leadership. To change the organization it must start at the top.
    • Bill McHenry
    • Manager, Organization Development, Newport News Shipbuilding
    I would contend that the Servant Leader model is not just one approach to leading, it's the only genuine approach that works. It is the highest level of transformational leadership, and therefore difficult to implement. Very few managers are naturally talented leaders, and most managers were not selected based on leadership talent or skills. This is why it's not common practice. In shipbuilding, many jobs are dangerous, complex, and take place in unpleasant environments. In conditions like these, only leaders who show genuine concern for the welfare of their team succeed. Officers leading soldiers in combat know the truth of this expereince better than anyone. We use Gallup's Q12 Survey of Employee Engagement to assess the condition of servant leadership here every year. If you read the 12 questions Gallup has discovered, most require that leaders serve their teams by providing them with clear expectations, inspiration, and th
    e opportunity to learn and improve. Why would an employee, "walk though fire" for a boss? Because they know that boss would do it for them or, in fact, the boss has done it for them, it's that simple...but not that easy.
    • Tom Leahy
    • Regional Director, Ulster Bank Group
    I fundamentally agree with the servant leadership approach and operate day to day in that manner. It is exhausting but also fulfilling. As a leader it's a privilege to serve both our people and our customers. The reason that its not more prevalent in business is that we have far to many egos & opinionated leaders. This will have to change as the days of command & control leadership are limited....the challenge for all leaders is to build trust with the Multi generational workforce while also engaging a new breed of customers who value expertise & service delivery. We need more leaders who understand that it's a privilege to lead in today's world.
    • Bryan Miles
    • CEO, Miles Advisory Group, Inc.
    In a "me first" culture ... it is easy for leaders and people in general to default to what they want ... for themselves. This view blinds them from the obvious need in front of them ... to serve others in various ways. Serving your Team ... is a powerful, powerful way to communicate what matters to you and your company/organization. And, I tend to agree ... servant leaders ... do achieve more, because the people they work with & lead ... work with natural posture of gratitude, because they have been served or at least seen service played out by the leader(s). Great post!
    • Madeleine York
    • CEO, York Career Development, Inc.
    I don't equate cleaning up after oneself, as in the example given, a great example of servant leadership as given in this article. Regarding the following: Further, servant leaders don't waste much time deciding to whom to give and in what order. They give to everyone in their organizations" how does one know that if a person is qualified to carry out the objective if all assignments are so loosely given?
    • Bernadette Boas
    • CEO, Ball of Fire Inc.
    Great greed has replaced great leadership and service. From both the individual leader themselves whose selfishness is placed first, and the corporations whose only view is of the bottom line - profits. They both fail to see that you get more by serving others first.

    Lastly, employees and customers have to stand up and demand different, better and more! Without that, nothing will change.
    Servant-leadership can be a single concept but has its varied flavors and the degrees to which one becomes subservient before setting his example to lead.....also are important the factors that cultural and ethnic impacts play in the given scenario. What might be subservient behaviour for one race might be outlandish for another culturally diverse set of people.
    I think to administer suitable doses at the right times would be the appropriate way for catering to different culturally diverse ethnically different set of minds!
    • Kamal Hossain
    • Faculty of Business, London School of Commerce
    Prof Heskett
    Thankyou for the intriguing question. Being a servant often implies being under someone, following their orders, their will. Leadership is about making others follow. This contrast in conception is what I believe, makes serving and leading not compatible in the minds of many. So, the main reason that it is not prevalent, is to my understanding, that it is not considered as a form of leadership by many leaders and they are not willing to become a servant and hence thinking they will become a follower.

    Kamal Hossain
    Faculty of Business
    London School of Commerce
    • Tom Jablonski
    • Student of Servant Leadership, The World
    Servant leadership is not prevalent in our capitalistic corporate controlled world because the true test for all decisions is doing whatever it takes to be profitable, and assuming that is what is best for everyone - even the least fortunate on whom our profiteers prey. And if couching ideas behind the curtain of terms like "servant leadership" helps achieve that goal than it will be adopted, especially if makes the whole pill easier to swallow. But if you can achieve profit without the nice labels, then there is no need for the label.

    For more details see my blog here: http://ecologicalleadership.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-un-prevalent-servant-leader.html

    • Michael Brunker
    • Executive Director, Jackie Robinson Family YMCA
    I've been blessed to attend the Harvard Business School Strategic Perspectives of Non-Profit Management thanks to the San Diego Alumni. You were part of the faculty in 2006. I can't begin to tell you how often I use the case study learnings, especially Willow Creek. Here in San Diego, I am fortunate to have Ken Blanchard as a mentor. The first book he gave me was "The Servant Leader." Summarily, it starts with simple concepts like, "Whom do you follow? How will you Lead?" My first cut is "Self-Serving Leaders vs. Servant Leaders." The concept of "Successorship" is certainly in line with Willow Creek along with "What's your Leadership Ego?" and "Mastering Pride and Fear." One of the most profound statements in the book reminds all "Before something can become a habit it must be practiced as a discipline." I suggest reading the rest of the story for more de
    tails, but before you do, check out http://youtu.be/maINUv2H8A0. Here are the lyrics. I hope both inspire you to continue spending your heaven doing good on earth!

    My best friend gave me the best advice
    He said each day's a gift and not a given right
    Leave no stone unturned, leave your fears behind
    And try to take the path less traveled by
    That first step you take is the longest stride

    If today was your last day and tomorrow was too late
    Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
    Would you live each moment like your last
    Leave old pictures in the past?
    Donate every dime you had, if today was your last day?
    What if, what if, if today was your last day?

    Against the grain should be a way of life
    What's worth the price is always worth the fight
    Every second counts 'cause there's no second try
    So live like you're never living twice
    Don't take the free ride in your own life

    If today was your last day and tomorrow was too late
    Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
    Would you live each moment like your last?
    Leave old pictures in the past?
    Donate every dime you had?

    And would you call those friends you never see?
    Reminisce old memories?
    Would you forgive your enemies?
    And would you find that one you're dreaming of?
    Swear up and down to God above
    That you'd finally fall in love if today was your last day?

    If today was your last day
    Would you make your mark by mending a broken heart?
    You know it's never too late to shoot for the stars
    Regardless of who you are

    So do whatever it takes
    'Cause you can't rewind a moment in this life
    Let nothing stand in your way
    'Cause the hands of time are never on your side

    If today was your last day and tomorrow was too late
    Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
    Would you live each moment like your last?
    Leave old pictures in the past?
    Donate every dime you had?

    And would you call those friends you never see?
    Reminisce old memories?
    Would you forgive your enemies?
    And would you find that one you're dreaming of
    Swear up and down to God above
    That you'd finally fall in love if today was your last day?
    • Jill Machol
    • Manager of Organizational Development, Providence Hospital, Washington, DC
    The New York Times Magazine, March 31, 2013 issue, had a wonderful article about Adam Grant and his research. I highly recommend it.
    • Anna Caraveli
    • Managing Partner, Connection Strategists, LLC
    Why? Because it is fundamentally contrary to the tenets of our culture in which the pursuit of personal fulfillment, rather than sacrifice for others, has been elevated to a level higher than simply a goal-- to that of inalienable human right.

    Ours is a culture in which strong leadership may conjure up images of the confident, authoritarian captains of the industry of a previous era or visionary, industry-transforming rebels of today--but certainly not a humble Christ-like or Confucian leader figure. I believe there is a great deal of ambiguity in defining what strong leadership means--outside strategy and posture.

    Interestingly, the "servant" concept is not considered "weakness" when applied to a company's relationship with clients, for example through customer service and the concept of demand centricity. Customer-driven organizations are not associated with weakness but with innovation and relevance. Perhaps this is because it is much clearer how customer orientation translates into business results. What we have found, of course, is that no organization can shift from customer service to true customer orientation if the servant leadership philosophy is not applied to all stakeholders--customers, employees, partners, etc.

    The studies of organizational phychologists are fascinating, in that they link leadership philosophy to outcomes.
    • Michael Darmody
    • Principal, Darmody & Company
    Dr. Heskett,
    First, thanks for your book The Culture Cycle. You may have heard this from your other readers too, but I've found that your research helps immensely in discussions with senior executives who tend to view culture as the 'soft stuff'. I simply quote your 8.0+% Operating margin differential, and the attentiveness immediately improves!

    As for why servant leadership isn't more prevalent, my belief is that we are not yet past the point where Type A personalities can feel safe
    a) accepting their own human vulnerabilities, and need for things like love, care, appreciation, and
    b) showing that side of themselves to their employees.

    In the mindset of many CEO's, Presidents and senior execs, serving may be confused with weakness. After all, in many cases, often it has been Alpha dog behaviour that helped get them to the top. Servant leadership would require a major shift in mindset and behaviour.

    So I think Grant's book, as is yours, is quite timely and useful in showing through research, that a servant approach to leadership is not only humane and moral, but it also yields superior performance results (far greater than those of competitors who retain dated leadership styles). Talk about a win/win deal!
    • Elisabeth Gadd
    • Director of Development, Tri-County Technical College Foundation
    I just finished reading "Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called "Don't Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A"." It discussed the concept of Servant Leadership at length. It was a great read. Servant Leadership is really about investing in people and truly caring about them as individuals. In part, by caring about people and helping them, you serve their needs and foster a more positive work environment. However, the purpose of serving them isn't out of a self-serving interest. You must really care about investing in the lives of others.
    • Edward Hare
    • Retired Director, Strategy and Planning, Fortune 250 Manufacturer
    Servant leadership isn't more prevalent because organizations rarely select for that quality. In my experience those who tend to be candidates for leadership positions are, far more often, ambitious, self-absorbed, it's all about me personalities. We don't look for leaders who might be more well regarded by others....we want results!!! Tendencies toward thoughtfulness, teaching others, delegating, and sharing aren't high enough on the list of what's evolved as indicators of leaders who we think will get the job done.

    It's all about personal values and the influence they have on leadership style. And it's awfully difficult to get to truly know what a person's values are....especially in difficult circumstances.
    • Ranji Cherian
    • President, DDB Mudra Group, India
    Servant leadership can be effectively practiced only if we value others more than we value ourselves. I think that requires a high degree of humility & love. In a culture where leadership is associated with codes like power, selfishness & control, it may be challenging for servant leadership to become a popular leadership style
    • Wallace Eamer
    • Deacon, Anglican Church of Canada
    Jesus practised servant leadership at the Passover Supper as the model of relationships and action for his team. John 13:15 is clear that the vision fails unless the whole team does it. This model of leadership in Christianity seeks to empower the best in each person towards common goals, which the phrase 'management reports to the lower levels' misses. It does not fit well with narcissism or a winners/losers culture inside the team.
    • Claudia Bessley-Hayes
    • Training, ePlus
    I've had the opportunity to work for a few servant leaders. They weren't wimps or softies--they were profoundly authentic. No games. They cared, and the numbers had to work and ethical "lapses" just didn't happen. They were stewards of the people, resources, and missions entrusted to them. They'd go to bat for you if you were right about something- even if the political winds against were blowing hard.

    Cynicism, cronyism, and greed seem to be in season, but times change. I have great hopes for the generation coming of age since the may have it's meltdown. I also see some phenomenal women who are servant leaders.aybe we don't hear about it so much yet- give it another 10-15 years.
    • Lisa Slayton
    • President, Serving Leaders
    It is not more prevalent because it is very hard, it requires that paradoxical combination of courage AND humility. It is other centered. It takes far more discipline and intentionality than command or heroic leadership. It is not a matter of training the head, it is a matter of leading from the heart! It is not for the positional leader who cares about her image or reputation. It is for the leader who cares deeply about building healthy organizations that will far outlast them!
    • John Keck
    • Accounting Mgr, Anonymous
    Why Isn't 'Servant Leadership' More Prevalent?

    Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant (Matthew 20:26)

    I have experienced numerous bosses/leaders in my lifetime, but the true leaders are those who possess humility, logic, compassion, empathy, righteousness, and especially meekness. This leader is a tolerant, yielding spirit that has the right of way, but he/she doesn't insist upon it.

    Way too many "leaders" view meekness as a weakness, a timidness that they can't or don't understand or relate to. I know many mid-level managers who have these traits, but they aren't put into higher levels of management because 'upper management' doesn't get it.

    Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch? (Luke 6:39)
    • Raji Gogulapati
    Service is about empathy, connecting to the others' needs, get to act and fulfill the immediate needs.
    I think President Clinton at his recent speech at
    http://www.georgetown.edu/news/bill-clinton-april-2013.html reminds that in order to serve, one must be obsessively interested in the people and the purpose first.
    Rabindra nath Tagore's Postmaster (
    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Postmaster) brings the point to the table, that servants have bigger hearts than the masters. Only a servant can take up work that no one might volunteer to. The work taken up by a servant is about connecting with the human nature that everything that matters around is done with ownership and pride for the outcome. In short, it is about getting the hands dirty to get to work.
    • Duncan Rinehart
    • Adjunct Faculty, Truckee Meadows Community College
    First I see a difference between leadership and "headship". People who head departments or organizations, who we often say are in leadership positions, might not be very good leaders. I view leadership as helping a group accomplish the group's goals, which necessarily entails serving the group. People in leadership positions, CEOs included, are only "heads" if they do not serve the employees, customers/clients, all the people they are responsible to. We should move away from calling anyone in a position of responsibility a "leader". The bar of leadership has been set much higher.

    But it is not just semantics. Greenleaf's view of servant leadership includes a deep dedication to the growth of their followers, to their transformation into better human beings - and better employees. And servant leaders themselves must be doing their own work on their own growth towards their own full humanity to authentically develop those they serve. How many CEOs do this? When will this be a selection criterion for positions of "leadership"?
    • Anonymous
    No one keeps stats on the Servant Leadership skills of executives. If it is not measured how do you know it gets done? Paraphrase from Peter Drucker's principles.

    With no meaningful way to discern the Servant Leader aptitude of two applicants the tiebreaker becomes profit, EPS, gross margins, etc...

    Companies make choices based on what will allow the organization to survive or reasonably guarantee. A leader that can make the numbers has tolerable weaknesses. A servant leader that misses the target is unacceptable.

    By nature Servant Leaders are humble and do not draw attention to themselves or their accomplishments. How then do you know that they are a Servant Leader?
    • Win Miller
    • Vice President, American Polywater
    Lao-Tzu also says, "Governing a country is like you cooking little fish: too much poking spoils the meal."

    Micro-managing is another form of disservice to an organization, for workers learn best by making decisions and trying new things. Sometimes they fail, so the freedom inherent in a service leadership style is risky.

    Practicing servant leadership is the best way to promote it.
    • G.P.Rao
    • Founder Chairman, Spandan, Chandigarh, India., Spandan, Foundation for Human Values in Management and Society, Chandigarh, India,
    Under systems of feudalism, aristocracy, any human organization characterized by hierarchy-ridden sentiments, interactions and activities, highly materialistic economic system, and, individual ego-centric psycho social system, the word 'servant' may not be all that pleasant to utter and contemplate. Remove 'servant', and replace by 'service', 'service oriented', or 'caring, sharing and compassionate' leadership, the nature and extent of resistance or hesitancy may mellow down significantly. The famous quote of Bard of Avon, 'What is in a name', perhaps needs to be revisited.
    • Katharina Lange
    • Director, Singapore Management University
    To my experience, giving requires by far more personality and virtues than taking, and leaders with cardinal virtues along the classic lines of Platon - i.e. wisdom, deliberateness, justice and courage - are really rare.
    • richard r pieper sr
    • volunteer, sr piepr family foundation , wicharaster.org , Green Leaf center for servant leadership . PPC Partners Inc
    My experience world wide has been there is goodness every were . Goodness , that natural wholeness place many seek requires no acknowledgement , notoriety or incentives for engagement .

    The world is seeking a different model for sustainable organizations , societies and our planet .Leadership development programs have significant inclusions of the principles of Servant Leadership . It is for many organizations and high performing companies "the" practice not always called servant leadership but the signs are clear -- listening , healing , empathy , awareness ,persuasion , forsight , conceptualization , stewardship , building community .

    Beyond that we now have Spiritual Intelligence moving to Spiritual Capital allowing a deeper broader understanding for leaders , educators and organizations . It is a rich moment to be engaged and serving .
    • Clifford Baker
    • Chair, Neffel Corporation
    Finding agreement with all the comments thus far presented, I would focus on one tendency in contemporary business practice as being instrumental in the possible demise of servant leadership - the tendency to select and promote leaders based in great part on charisma. It would seem (based on my experience and nothing more) that charisma does not predicate competence and that a sociopath personality often tends to be charismatic.

    I add yet another quote from Lao Tzu: "He, who takes upon the humiliation of the people, is fit to be the master of the people".
    • Dan Wallace
    • Partner, Tailwind Discovery Group
    Let's start with the notion that "Servant Leadership" applies a religious context where it isn't needed and probably isn't helpful. This is really about "Effective Leadership." In my experience, effective leadership consists of getting really clear about the future direction of the organization and the work required to get there (by far better done as a team exercise rather than delivered as a mandate from the guy at the top of the org chart), dividing the work into the cleanest, most logical buckets of responsibility and accountability, putting great people into each of those buckets, and then getting out of their way except when they need help, coordination, resources and tie-breaking.

    This is leadership through massive delegation, accompanied by accountability. We might also call it "Humble Leadership." In my experience, it works - full stop - but indeed is not prevalent. Why not? My thoughts are:

    1. Leading that way requires that you view your role as helping others be successful. Those are the people whom Adam Grant calls Givers. I don't recall his numbers, but there are many fewer givers than there are Matchers and Takers.

    2. We are much more obsessed with outcomes than with process. Leading through massive delegation requires that you be willing to allow people to make mistakes, to have failures and to do things in ways other than the way you would do them. Great leaders know that allowing those things to happen will make the organization stronger in the long run, and know that if absolutely necessary, they can intervene to prevent a catastrophe. Weaker leaders are afraid of the near term consequences of any failure, and so act in ways designed to prevent them.

    3. It takes a fair amount of ego to want to be at the head of an organization. The combination of a strong ego and a humble spirit is relatively rare.

    4. As one of the commenters noted, the hero stories we here about leaders focus on the decisions they made, not the people they developed. Most people who've read Good to Great recall the Hedgehog Concept. How many of us remember that Collins starts with "Level 5 Leadership," which is all about humility and the empowerment of others?

    5. Since most leaders are oriented toward command-and-control, it is very hard for humble leaders to advance because regardless of the results they produce, what they do looks and smells funny to the people responsible for their promotion.

    6. Where do you go to learn how to lead this way? I am a very (!!!) proud graduate of HBS, but this certainly isn't what we were taught. I have friends who went to all of the "usual suspects" among great business schools, and none of them were taught it either. If our leading institutions of leadership education don't teach this style of leadership, who will?
    • Ruth Lipman
    • Chief Science and Practice Officer, American Association of Diabetes Educators
    It requires the individual at the helm to respect and trust in those around them. In so doing, everyone is empowered to it their all.
    • John Day, 1976 HBS MBA
    • Retired Accountant, currently serve on several corporate boards, Invesco Mortgage Capital and Edens LLP
    Anyone interested in this topic should read the book,
    Love Works, by Joel Manby. Joel is CEO of Herschend Family Enterprises. Joel is a 1985 HBS MBA whose work prior to Herschend included time at GM/Saturn, Saab and several other places. He also has been on the TV Series Undercover Boss. His book is about the values used at Herschend which are based on 1 Corinthians 13. The values are Love is Patient, Kind, Trusting, Unselfish, Truthful, Forgiving and Dedicated. You can do all of these things without sacrificing growth and profit.
    • Ayodele Asaju
    • Communication Specialist, Community and Social Development Project, Nigeria
    The motives for seeking leadership today is changing from that of the times of Jesus, Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, King and other such leaders. The positions are also attained more by fierce competition than by genuine call. People of servant leadership nature are too humble and self effacing to step forward or survive in today's environment. The distinctive abilities that a leader needs to be servant leaders and still earn the needed respect to make decision, direct and command, are lacking in today's ego-centered survivors of these intrigues.
    • Charalambos Vlachoutsicos
    • Adjunct Professor, Athens University of Economics and Business
    I believe it isn't more prevalent because it takes a great deal of self confidence and humility. This is rarely so because it clashes with managers' inflated egos!
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC(India) Private Limited
    A servant is one who serves while a leader is one who leads. The two roles though different do not in fact overlap when we expect a leader to also be a servant but not the reverse of it. To be humble is a great quality. To be egoless is also a trait of noble persons. Helping management is also appreciable. Great philosophers have laid emphasis on such personality cleansing approaches for holistic development requires that each one of us should listen to our inner core and answer the call of conscience thereby sincerely doing good to one and all. All this is bound to raise us spiritually.

    So far so good. However, when we confront the various challenges of corporate life - business growth, profit making, meeting so many financial and non-financial targets - most of us remain so much under stress and tension that the ' higher ' needs receive lesser attention than deserved.

    Business goals have got to be achieved. A CEO, therefore, makes it priority number one. For this, he has to see that his team delivers optimally. Those who fail to perform have to be appropriately dealt with. All this seems rather impossible if one adopts a strict ' servant ' approach.

    As far as behavior towards staff is cocerned, it is possible to be humane, kind and helpful. One's own day-to-day routine needs can also be personally taken care of. Anger and harshness can and need to be avoided. Treating others the way you would expect them to treat you is a holy quality. Even if we give due attention to all this, we would be doing a lot.
    • Nisar Moosa
    • Lead trainer, Youth Impact Pakistan
    Service leaders always comes from the people who use their right side of brain. People who cares, loves, and have a burning desire to develop peoples in organizations. Unfortunately our education system and organizational structure gives importance to those who produce results by hook and crook. The systems we developed in our organizations bounds people to narrow their thinking and attitude towards immediate results while service leaders need long time to win.
    Look at our schools and universities, which contents they are using. Look at society which roles models we are presenting. Look at CEOs which are getting fame. How a person dare to serve in these circumstances.
    Service leadership is a philosophy which is not compatible with capitalism. It other hand promote human side of leading. Capitalism focus only numbers at the end. Service leadership give importance to human not numbers.
    All those organization who wish to be lead humanly must withdraw themselves from numbers. They may be secondary objectives not prime one.
    • Mona Bagot
    • Director, Central Admissions, Fresenius Medical Care
    I believe that despite the information available on the subject, many leaders fail to understand that this is not some sappy, weak, religious only leadership. Unless leaders possess a humble spirit and a continual learning lifestyle, they may not be exposed to this type of leadership style as a desirable direction for themselves. I do not see this type of leadership being promoted in big companies very often - at least in my experience. I have sought out information on this subject as I am a Christian and believe in serving those I lead as I had the example of Christ. I am not sure that others will learn all the merits of this leadership style without seeking it out. Many "big" organizations still have a heavy presence of the leadership based on role power.
    • Tojo Eapen
    • HR, Nokia
    One feels that in corporate circles, this is not a much appreciated or even encouraged trait. One highly effective way to creating more servant leaders in the next generation of leaders in any context is through active, inspiring role modeling by current or newly selected leaders (supportive selection process) and for everyone to see that servant leadership can lead to visible success (engaged workforce, business success etc.) and value creation in their world. The more successful examples there are, the world will start to believe again.
    • Bill Flynn
    • CEO, Paeon Partners
    It seems to me that the model for leadership is rooted in the people we call leaders. These are usually military leaders or coaches of sporting teams. They are usually honored for their ability to motivate people. The truth is that motivation always comes from within. And these great leaders are not necessarily great leaders all the time. A great coach doesn't have a champion every season (except Phil Jackson).
    We tend to thing leadership comes from being and using power. The servant leader must yield most of his/her power down to the functional level. The leader's jobs are two, in my opinion. The first is Vision. Where are we going? And why? The other is providing resources. How are we going to get there?

    The on-going conversation with respect to those things keeps the group leading and being led.
    • Chester Jourdan
    • Executive Director, South East Texas Nonprofit Development Center
    The Better Business Bureau of South East Texas CEO has very much adopted this approach and leadership philosophy. You also see this style of leadership being emulated and practiced by the CEO, President, Founder of Jason's Deli.
    • John Louton
    • Retired, U.S. Foreign Service
    Laozi is probably the Chinese thinker most quoted by non-Chinese writers and the least understood. This article is an almost archetypal example. Prof. Heskett is apparently unaware that Laozi political philosophy as expounded in the "Daodejing" was the key text in the so-called "Legalist" (fajia) school of Chinese philosophy. The Qin dynasty (221B.C.E.-208B.C.E.), the shortest lived and harshest rule in all Chinese dynastic history was founded on these principles. Indeed, the founding ruler famously buried Confucian scholars alive and burned their writings.
    • Tim
    • Research Director
    How often does one hear any manager say to people on his or her team, "What do you need to get this done? How can I help?" It's a good idea to let people figure out how to accomplish a project or a task alone, to give them self-confidence, but it's a bad idea to say, "Get this done and come back to me when it is." Leaders are, too often, I think, afraid of their employees being smarter or more gifted than they themselves are - an optimal circumstance for failing to get the best out of themselves and their employees.
    • Dennis Nelson
    • Risk Manager and Internal Control Officer, SFS
    Servant leadership may be more prevalent than is obvious. The person perceived to be at the front of or leading an activity may not be the person in control. Given that the servant leadership chooses to serve humbly, his or her impact may not be visible.
    • Graeme Wadham
    • Manager, LBG
    I believe that Sevant Leadership while being a well documented appraoch has drawbacks. 1) I would suggest that the in todays Business World that Servant Leadership is confused by the need to serve the share holders for profit rather than the Upward motion of Serving within the organisation itself. 2) I believe that we live in a world where emotion element of managment is all but lost as is the fact that it is the minions within every organisation make is possible for that orgainisation to exist. 3) Leaders of today make the right noises but do they truely know what people go though in order to achieve the requied results, I think not.

    True Servant Leadership should be directed at the colleagues within the organisation. If this is correctly managed the desired results will follow naturally. A happy, well recognised & valued work force will always go the extra mile. Their reasoning will be that they are doing it for thier leader & and not the business however, the results will be better that those achieved through pressure from above to deliver profit.
    • Mike White
    We often forget (or lack emphasis), that the customer is whom we ultimately must serve, leaders and rank and file.
    • Simon Galbraith
    • Group Marketing Director, VTI
    Strategy is top down, execution bottom up. Having leadership and management/execution functions switch their mental modes between the two requires the ability to see which context you are operating in, a willingness to change role, and ability to coach the organisation through this change.
    • Barbara Kennedy
    • MBA Student, Liberty University
    In today's world being so prideful and having a "me first" attitude, the reason it is not more prevalent is that it is simply a matter of syntax, call it "Honor Leadership" instead and you'll have a multitude of people exhibiting and sharing cases of Servant Leadership.
    • Myrielle Lemoine
    • Sr. Director, Regional Education, CA Technologies
    Servant leadership is negatively impacted by one key factor: time.

    Companies of all sizes have scaled down to the point of everyone from all levels being stretched thin. This results in leaders focusing on the bottom line with an approach of how they got there, so that they can replicate their product successes.

    The focus on the human factor of business performance tends to be to weed out non-performers. The valuable time that should be spent properly acknowledging who got us there and constantly asking them "what can I do to make you be more successful?" is fallaciously re-allocated to compensate for that lack of time.

    In order to be a servant leader, one must have a resolve that time is a valuable commodity only if spent wisely - and time spent putting the needs of others first to support them to perform as highly as possible is an investment that could yield an immediate return to the business.
    • Allwell Mbagwu
    • Manager, CVSCaremark
    It is really amazing how Biblical principles and truths are slowly but surely creeping into business methods and ethics. The Servant leadership concept is not new. It has been in place for over 2000 plus years.Jesus Christ,son of Joseph, a Jew preached and practiced it.The model is very effective as demonstrated by the outcome through His 12 followers.Real and unfeigned leadership focuses on service,just like a true shepherded.Servant Leadership is not popular because most CEOs are hired hands. They are only concerned about bottom lines and profit margins.They are like the biblical Pharisees,they know how to interpret the laws and sometimes display eloquence and proficiency in oratory abilities,but fall short in demonstrating what they preach. All that matters to them is the end of year bonus and the millions declared as profit to shareholders.Their motivation is the fat pay checks attached to the position. There are many boss
    es but few leaders!
    • Chip Chapados
    • Principal, Stowe Consulting Company
    In my opinion there are four main reasons why Servant Leadership isn't more prevalent.
    1. Much of a manager's experience at work is one of frustration, and when we are frustrated we are more likely to act in a churlish manner. Peoples' immediate reactions reinforce the behavior.
    2. Servant Leadership is about influence where most management training focuses on control.
    3. Most company cultures reward managers who look and act in a decisive manner, whether their actions are productive or not. "Nice people" are generally considered to be "weak," or "too soft" to make the hard decisions.
    4. Servant Leadership is a set of principles that have to be learned through experience. It is not a toolbox of techniques or methods. It is most effectively learned through mentorship - and we know there are not a lot of Servant Leaders to act as mentors.
    • Victoria Cassells
    • Trustee, Greenleaf Servant Leader UK
    Dear James,
    thank you for your article on Servant Leadership. My colleagues and I here in the UK are actively promoting S/L and also have started a consultancy to help organisations boost their journey towards developing an S/L culture.
    The time seems ripe for this as many people here feel jaded and cynical with leadership in general and in the Finance Sector and government in particular.
    we recently ran a not for profit day on the theme of Leading in Troubled Times and had many enquiries and a good attendance, with people already on their journey and those who were curious about S/L.
    If you come to the Uk it would be lovely to meet up and talk.
    kind regards
    • Mike Gatliff
    • Chaplain, Greenwich Chaplaincy Services
    I have observed the same dynamics in secular business leaders and religious and non-profit business leaders.

    The ones who are striving to be servant leaders are deeply secure in their own identity. They know who they are, and who they aren't. Their identity is not rooted in external success or failure, or in what other people think of them. They have a deep sense of trust that if they are advancing the worthy mission of the organization, focusing on helping others be increasingly effective, they themselves will be fine.

    Perhaps another way of describing this is that their validation needs have largely been met. They don't need to prove anything. They can largely forget themselves and focus on the goal, and the welfare of those around them.
    I think this is one reason it is very challenging for younger people to be servant leaders.
    • Shivalika Sharma
    • student, ubs
    Well in many schools the motto is "learn to serve". Also all the public officials are termed as public servants. This quality to serve others equally should be infused with some cautions, As its certain to exploitation by others, in every citizen only then a country can climb the steps to growth!!
    • Mark Stanley
    • Executive Director
    Servant Leadership is not more prevelant because its a myth and its oxymoronic. These terms do not fit together - Servant & Leader - and place impossible expectations on a leader, and will result in disappointed followers. We leaders like this term - particularly those of us in faith based oranizations - because it makes us seem and feel more benevolent, more ultruist, more holy. I confess I would not want to be the follower of a leader who self-pronounced themself as a 'Servant Leader'. Its just another way poor leaders attempt to elevate themselves above those they "serve." The leaders I want to emulate are not so egotistical to crown themselves with such a title. The thing about humility is that as soon as you claim to have achieved it, you've lost it. The same is true for the notion of 'Servant Leadership.'

    Leaders are constantly prioritizing, choosing ultimately what is best for the organization. Sometimes the priorities are such that followers feel 'served', i.e. if the priority is growth and promotions and opportunities for advancement are ways forward that just so happen to feel like being 'served' to those who follow. But sometimes the priority is cost control - which leads to layoffs, reduced budgets, loss of benefits, wage freezes. Followers in this context do not feel 'served'.

    One of the key problems with the Servant Leader idea is the understanding of who and what a servant is. Servants can and do serve their masters, but do not necessarily care for or care about their masters. They serve for a variety of reasons: for the money, to have a job, because they have no other choice. The notion of 'servant' is one step removed from slavery and has many of the associated negative connotations.

    The 'Servant Leader' approach is one that is so schizophrenic that it is an entirely unhealthy approach for a leader to take. And - when it comes to followers - we are desparate for caring, competent, committed leaders. Our need to be led well is far more important than our need to be served.

    The more correct notion is that of a 'Serving Leader' - and its more than just semantics. It fits with most of the warm fuzzy descriptors of a Servant Leader, but it is more realistic. Much of the challenge of leading is that one must serve many 'masters'; the board, the customer, the staff, the bottom line. It is an entirely different thing to be a servant of the board, than it is to serve the board.

    Finally - and I suppose I should have started with this - when Richard Greenleaf coined this phrase some 40+ years ago, he was talking entirely about how leaders serve, not about leaders being servants. Two entirely different concepts.
    • Yadeed Lobo
    Servant leadership is the anti-thesis to modern ways of leading.

    A good test of potential servant leaders is the way discussants have filled in their position titles when posting comments to this discussion. Titles are associated with perceived achievement of success.A real servant leader has no use for titles.

    Many visible 21st century leaders appear to be narcissists, almost like movie stars of a previous era. Building a profile, talking about one self and one's accomplishments, entering awards to win adulation at industry conferences or working on the perception of oneself is something considered almost crucial to worldly success today.

    One cause of such behavior could be the curriculum at universities which inculcate such values and stress the importance of external/outward appearances. Another could be the incentives/rewards which some boards seem to accommodate for perceived breakthrough leaders capable of making/keeping companies successful in competitive industries or in government. This tends to inflate or self justify the ego of such leaders.

    Servant leadership is quite similar to the quiet leader concept propounded by Prof Badaracco a couple of years ago. I still believe some of these can be found in places like universities where genuine concern for students under one's tutelage is the dominating paradigm.

    As Jesus Christ aptly put it in Mark's gospel when the apostles argued as to who would be first," And He sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all"
    • Dbloomhall
    • Vp, Saggio Consulting Inc.
    ...because the comp system is inverted. When those that help customers are rewarded where revenue and productivity occurs the 'leaders' will serve. Who decided that decided strategy, operations, finance and other executive roles are worth more than those who actually produce and help? Can you imagine a company where customer service reps earn more than the CEO? I for one would buy shares....
    • Jane
    • Executive Director, LBCCS
    My sense is that there is a vulnerbility in being a Servant Leader. People think that means you are a nice person but not a visionary. It may get you far in building relationships, but when the times get tough how do others view the leader?
    • DrAJagan Mohan Reddy
    • Associate Professor ( HR ), Institute of Public Enterprise, Hyderabad
    There is trust deficit widely prevalent. In today's highly competitive world where HR provides cutting edge its very important that leaders serve their employees so that they serve the customers. In other words employees first and customers second. I feel the model as such very much relevant if pursued sincerely
    • Dan
    • Retired CEO, Retired
    Steve Hickman had it most right here -- and I fundamentally disagree with most of you who laid blame at the feet of the "selfish, egocentric, incompetent, maniacal" manager. You all place far to much credit on the leader's sholder.

    Example: everyone knows you must be very careful setting a salesman's comp. plan because he/she is a master at gaming the system. The good salesman will figure your Plan out and exploit it where it can be exploited.

    Why on earth do you think a 'leader' will not do the same? You have far too lofty an opinion of a CEO.

    Leaders do what the organization incents him/her to do. Period. And organizations, by and large, look NOT to the success of subordinates as proof of leadership success but to the results of the LEADER. Thus, leaders are incented to take credit, manage, and do that which bestows glory on him/her-self, not on subordinates. This is a death-blow to servant behavior.

    Then the question is: "Why do ORGANIZATIONS demand selfish behavior rather than servant leadership?" Do BODs not believe in the servant model?
    • Anonymous
    I would suggest that the rewards experienced by servant leaders are more intrinsic ( as opposed to extrinsic)......knowing they have made a difference and being recongnised by their team as people who have character. The reason these leaders choose the servant leadership style is inherent to their character as well.

    The modern work culture does not value these virtues- humility (which is the basis of servant leadership)is frequently seen as a sign of weakness not strength, and is not necessarily rewarded. And humility is the opposite of assertiveness, which is counter to what is recognised and rewarded in today's work culture.
    • Kayt Conrad
    • Division Administrator, University of Iowa
    Why isn't servant leadership more prevalent? Because it's hard to do, and it's a radical approach. It requires that leaders listen more than they talk, and love and value people in spite of their shortcomings--that's enough to put most people off. They just do not have the combination of emotional capacity and professional capability to be servant leaders.

    A few more humanities courses in the management curriculum might help people find the path themselves.
    • Jerry Houser
    • Associate Dean, Willamette University
    I'm not so sure you are right about it not being prevalent. Maybe yes, maybe no. Seems anecdotal.

    There is a sea change in leadership paradigms if you look back a couple decades. There is a growing literature that verifies that the old "captain of the ship," autocratic style leadership is toxic.

    For example, Jim Collins' work in "Good To Great" identifies leadership styles that run the best of the best organizations. It's not perfect research, but he makes a good point. Much of what he identifies aligns with servant leadership principles.

    Like any paradigm shift, it takes time. We think nothing now of working women, equal opportunity, minority managers, etc. whereas a couple decades ago it was very different.
    • Chandra Kumar Sekhar
    • Former COO, Air India Express
    An airline veteran with over 35 years industry experience, I applied the principles of servant leadership whenever and wherever I got an opportunity. Having been influenced by Robert Townsend's book while still in college, I was always in touch with the 'front-line' as the Management graduates put it. However, my style of leading the team, was not always favoured by the senior management, who felt threatened by my so-called maverick ways ! Part of the blame is also due to the modern management penchant for power point presentations in the Board Room !!!
    • Greg Anthony Hawod
    • Captain, Of My Own Ship
    More often than not we equate being on top as being powerful and authoritative. This is the result of the roles and responsibilities often being given to those who have to be stewards of their organization. Because of this we normally think of our managers or senior leaders as elites who can were chosen because of their unique abilities to lead.

    Moreover, different forms of media be it may as television, social media, etc are portraying the popular notion of how a leader should be seen. Managers are viewed as some one who has the power to do things.
    • Atul Guglani
    • Director, Mantex Technologies
    If Darwin would have extended his theory of natural selection to the corporate world. The answer of servant leader was self answered.
    Servant leadership does not work, because the maturity , competence , skill , understanding of those whom you serve consider humility as weakness. It is not seen as empowerment of the people and providing resources, which anyway most companies do. But as inertness, complicit and casual.
    Leaders have to continuously confront situations, where logical and database answers do not provide solutions. But the ingenuity and foresight of the leader drives the team to success. Hence serving literally means standing out and Giving literally means maneuvering the complexities to ease the burden of all associated with the firm. Some leaders have fancy lifestyles, but let not the personal life of leaders be a reflection of the service which he humbly provides. Optimal arrogance also pays as a firm is attacked continuously in a competing environment both internally and externally.
    Culture is another big issue. In Europe, a CEO may drive his own car, but in Asia, a manager will have two drivers, moving him to his office next door and his children to school. Driving your own car would be considered servant and being driven a leader. How far will you go in changing the world ?
    • Kola Ayeye
    • Executive Director, Mainstreet Bank
    I am a disciple of servant leadership, and I try to practice it. But I am not sure servant leaders are necessarily the most "productive" in today's brutal competition. And it seems the profiles of most of those held up as role models of success are often not the servant-leader variant. Perhaps the limited job opportunities and scandalously high unemployment rates in developing countries such as mine (Nigeria), which severely blunts alternatives, and makes employment a treasure to be kept literally at any cost, regardless of the style or excesses of the boss/leader, makes this breed even more scarce in these climes.
    • B Kawahara
    • Pharmacist, VA
    A couple of thoughts: There seems to be a trend toward to be a leader you must be narcissistic leader (the reason for so many scandals). Also, given the models considered to be successful, leaders are not servants to subordinates: kingdoms, the military, and sports teams. If the leader is a servant they may be considered weak.
    • Philippe Gouamba
    • Vice President of Human Resources, Skyline Windows, LLC
    Servant leadership is indeed a rare bird!
    "Max De Pree's book, Leadership is an Art, that emphasizes the importance of love, elegance, caring, and inclusivity as central elements of management. In that regard, it is also akin to the pope's annual washing and kissing of the feet as part of the Holy Thursday rite."
    Today's so leaders have orders from boards, shareholders and owners. Their first order of business is to make as big a profit for the company as possible. "Love, caring, inclusivity" are not taught in Business School, they are not even discussed. Foot washing? Loving the other human being? Are you joking? And keep in mind that the show is orchestrated by business leaders who have the biggest egos. They are so egotistical, they even compete amongst themselves. In the majority of Business Schools, the lesson plan focusses on how competitive business is and on how to stay as many steps ahead of your competitors as possible. It focuses on maximizing how to separate the consumer from his hard earned dollar, while giving same consumer a product that is produced at the lowest production cost possible; all for the benefit of the Capitalist(s) who set up the Organization. As long as that is the basic business model that companies world-wide follow, there simply is NO ROOM fo
    r an elegant and noble concept such as Servant Leadership.
    • David Greenwell
    • Director of Sales, Wacker Chemical Corporation
    I think that servant leadership can be misconstrued as a soft leadership style, versus the driver mentality looked for in many organizations. In reality whether you are trying to establish the connective piece of aligning people with organization vision and missions thereby inspiring them or call them to higher standards via performance appraisals, both are serving the individual and the organization. Carrot or stick, if done in the right spirit, are the attributes of a servant.
    • Luis Castaneda
    • Leadership Manager, Grupo Compartamos
    I think there are two factors, the first one is called Ego. The second one is people who does not understand what means Servant Leadeship, thou, the definition is quite simple; companies that work with this leadership philosophy must explain conducts that are expected from everyone at the organization, leading by example is the best way to expand the number of leaders with such caractheristics. At our company we have developed a model to help people achieve the kind of leadership expected form them thru associated virtues they should know and live to be a servant leader.
    • Nauman Lodhi
    • Director, SORCIM Technologies
    I would say it exists in organizations to some degree. However, one could see it in action where a leader/CEO trusts his employees and they trust him back. In a amicable environment this leadership style is often practiced by the bosses. But when the business heads and managers become wary of the employees productivity lags they can't think of 'serving' them with open heart. In my view helping your employees and giving your precious time to groom them is a manifestation of servant leadership in this age.
    As per my knowledge, the "Servant Leadership" concept was popularized by saintly person and great freedom fighter of India, Mahatma Gandhiji. When India was still fighting for her independence, Gandhiji was thinking about the model of governance after independence. Then he proposed this concept to his party, Indian National Congress. Due to this reason, in India even now, the political leaders are referred to as 'Janasevaka's, which means, Servants of people.
    In the same lines, Gandhiji also proposed that the customer is a person to be served by businessmen as he is the one who gives you an opportunity to serve. This is particularly important because he said this in the first half of 20th century itself. Now, we find many business establishments portray these sayings of Gandhiji in prominent place, advertisements etc, in India.
    There is an interesting saying, "When you see a chained slave, look at the other end of the chain, and you find his master." So meaningful! Slave and Master are equally bound by the chain. Similarly, a leader cannot exist in vacuum; he needs servants (or followers) to accomplish his task. He can accomplish it better by being a servant.
    So I do not find the term "Servant Leadership" as oxymoron.
    • Neville Emslie
    • Ministry Development Officer, Diocese of Canterbury
    In offering leadership seminars to ministers of religion the words of Jesus are always central, 'whoever wishes to be great among you must be your sevant... the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve' (Mt 20.26-28). Greenleaf's emphasis on being a servant first follows these ancient words. I think it a pity we do not put the words the other way around, the best leader is the 'Leader Servant' where leadership is the gift or talent or skill, but the servant is the noun, the substance, the bedrock. If members of an organisation, particularly in a service industry, see themselves as servants then their ability becomes the adjective that describes the form of service, thus Accountant Servant, Sales Servant, CEO Servant, Receptionist Servant, and so on.
    • Natrajh Ramakrishna
    • Country Head Audit,, KPMG India
    1. Contrary to pupular belief, the "Servant Leader" is not somebody who is meek, docile and not assertive. It simply means a leader who does not believe that he/she leads through his/her positioning. The leader's focus must be on service. Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Churchill were outstanding leaders because they served their people. A good leader has no value for worldly things which are temporary. He/She pursues higher aims that are more permanent. Organizations led by such people are more sustainable, strong on values and ethics and corporate governance. For an organization to tread the path of ethics, they need to follow principles that are permanent and not leaders who are temporary.
    • Patuxolo Nodada
    • Director, Busmark
    I'm an Executive in a industrial manufucturing business, focused on building bus bodies. I'm also a Christian, so I use principles of servant leadership, I give away more than I get to both my partners, mangement and employees. I get confused when most people won't retun the favour and do as I do, I console myself that they don't look at things on the same approach as I do. I look up to Jesus as the best leader we ever had, and most read in the whole world, and the common solution and comfort I get is that, he leadership success has never been matched by any other living person in politics, business, including churches.

    I challenge each leader to get some principles of leadership, based on Jesus life, you will see interesting revelations, on how we can manage and be better leaders.
    • James K. Dittmar
    • Chair, Department of Leadership Studies, Geneva College
    I agree with Mark Stanley's assessment. The more accurate, meaningful term is "serving leadership." Read John Stahl-Wert's book, The Serving Leader, for more insight.
    • Denise Smith
    • Training Coordinator, Access Health CT
    I am struck by the absence of representation in your article of the most admired and arguably the most successful servant leader in history, Jesus of Nazareth. While most of your respondents considered servant leadership an oxymoron, an arduous task or unrealistic for young up and coming business professionals, the reverse proved to be true in the life of Jesus. His message remained clear, his followers were transformed, his organization thrived, he was anything but a poor leader, his ultimate purpose has been sustained through centuries of war, slavery, oppression and racism conducted "in his name". While the mention of Lao Zhu is important and popular education will remember and apply his principles as well, there has been no better example. Servant leadership was the teaching of Jesus-He who is greatest among you will be your servant- and through this concept, we have an icon, a model and a challenge to lead thusly if
    we hope to have a fraction of the impact.
    • Jack Slavinski
    • Technology Consulting
    Great topic! Until organizational models and corporate values change to place more senior leadership emphasis on the power of servant leadership it will be very difficult to get significant movement and traction with this very important behavior which has tremendous potential. I find that most senior leadership find it difficult to relate to this.
    • Ron Strieker
    • Managing Partner, CMI
    Yes servant leader is an oxymoron as defined by Webster's, however, in practice it is a powerful concept that confuses those who lead and those who follow. Leading from behind or within the group is done everyday. Is this servant leadership? If so, we've hit the mark. I think as with most wonderful, powerful concepts we are again looking in the wrong place (i.e., direction).


    Ron Strieker, Ph.D.
    • Terry Rodgers
    • CEO, HighStreet Accommodations
    On the continuum of servant leadership lie the ideas of the busybodys and interfering mothers-in-law we have all experienced to one degree or another. There is a fine line between offering help with sufficient respect that the receiver doesn't feel embarrassed, interpret condescension or view help as outright interference on the part of the giver. Proactively giving to others entails an ability to recognize when others might benefit from one's help in the form of assistance, advice, information, connections or coaching, or whatever, without necessarily being asked by the recipient. The giver therefore must be in a position to observe and make judgements about both her own capacity to deliver and the needs of another. She has to have the necessary confidence to offer this help without being asked. Complicating things, this sensitivity often works in both directions, and can serve as an effective social brake that will cause many to
    have second thoughts and withhold such help.
    • RK Sharma
    • Management
    See lot of times what Harvard, Sloan-MIT and Stanford doesn't understand is ground reality, business schools or theories should not be for 1% it should cater to a larger audience, Servant leadership in other words is like Yes person, look at IT department of any big company in USA, how many Americans serve in them, you can count same on fingers, so who has all the jobs, only South Indians (People from 2 states in India Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Naidu), they rose to this stature only by service leadership, means never argue with Boss, say yes to everything, keep head down, do or go to any extent directly or indirectly to keep job and throw anybody else out of gear, adopt regional approach means technically say other person is not fit using smile but in reality never hire anybody outside own community, so practically service leadership may have multiple dimensions and author has failed to act on other dimension like when One communit
    y use this approach to swallow all IT jobs in USA, Europe and everywhere by working (Perceived notion) for 14 hrs, sleeping in office and saying yes to everybody, how or who can tackle this onslaught. With such action nobody else can get job and can't compete because nobody will come to such a low quality of life or tricks so what is the way out, I suppose nothing. Most of the business school theories are just concepts in real world, look at reality of HR department, I will say this term or function itself should be abolished and it should be called Administrative services instead.
    • Bert Baker
    • Manager, Belcan Engineering
    "Servant Leader" is no more an oxymoron than is the term "Loving Parent." If I love my children, I do not necessarily do what they want; but I do what is in their best interest as best as I can. If I serve my employees, I do not necessarily do what they want; but I do what is in their best interest as best I can. So, I think many of the people on this blog that have expressed problems with the term "Servant Leader" have a shallow definition of the concept. Similar to how some people have a shallow definition of love-- having never heard of "tough love."

    Others on this blog who have expressed concern with the term seem to think that "Servant Leader" only means the leader serves their employees. This too is shallow thinking. A leader has to serve the whole organization. Yes, their position in the organization makes it so having a maximally effective team is their primary task. But they also owe service to their peers, to their superiors, and to the corporate vision and goals. Economic realities bound what we can do for our teams and our corporations; and ignoring these realities serves no one. Serving the corporation also means service to society. As all corporations exist only with the permission of broader society: we have to make sure society values us. So, effective leadership is not just about "serving" every now and then. Effective leadership is a full-time job as a "servant." Indeed, it is not far from being a slave.

    Boards of directors who promote egocentric CEOs are only passing up the greater economic value they can achieve by promoting executives that serve the organization, full time; and not their egos any of the time. I have seen egos squander corporate resources over and over. Promoting egocentric managers is not Darwinian optimization; but ignorance. Most on this blog seem to think ignorance is a top reason Servant Leadership is not more prevalent: ignorance of how it is done, and ignorance of the economic value it creates. Most on this blog also seem to think that egocentric leadership will not create the most competitive corporations of the future; but that egocentric leadership will itself soon go the way of the dinosaur.

    By the way, I graduated from HBS in the 80's. I think I learned this stuff first at HBS. To me, "Servant Leader" is just an enhanced version of what we learned back then as state-of-the-art management practice. I am disappointed to hear others on this blog say they did not learn these principals while at HBS. It is interesting how we can hear the same words, and get different messages.

    I apologize for being so blunt. I couldn't figure out how to make my point more graciously. Feel free to call me if you want to discuss. I am in the alumni directory.
    • Jeanne wonio
    • Social justice board, Diocese of davenport
    Check out book by Dan Ebener, Blessings for Leaders, Liturgical Press.
    • Anonymous
    "What we never hear about we never copy." Interesting, I don't think we are supposed to hear about Servant leadership, we are supposed to experience it in our one on one interactions daily. Not with CEOs and Presidents necessarily, but with hot dog vendors, and office clerks who support the people around them by encouraging them to take a coffee break, or by offering them a funny story to make their day a little bit brighter. Once we develop a caring attitude toward others and recognize (see) ourselves in them, we can't help ourselves from serving them. Mother Teresa of calcutta once said: " Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired."

    And in answer to the question asked; No Servant Leadership is not an Oxymoron. It is truth once the misconceptions created by ego are stripped away and we can clearly see reality. We are one, not many. E Pluribus Unum, from many one - is false in that we were never many in the 1st place. Servant is Master and Master is Servant.
    • richard r pieper sr
    • volunteer ,non executive chair PPC Partners inc ,Past Chair Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership
    Lead by Serving is another way to look at it. Serving others needs , expanding their capacity , is remarkable effective for those that have the inclanation or forsight to see the difference . Check the Greenleaf web site for company examples .

    A LIMITING FACTOR FOR ANY LEADER IS THEIR MORAL DISPOSITION DEFINED BY SOME COMMON CHARCATER TRAITS SUCH AS , responsibilty , respect for one self and others , integrity ,fairness, honesty .

    These leaders and their organization exhibit these principals listening , empathy , stewardship ,healing, awarness,conceptualization,forsight ,commitement ,community .

    There are virtues involved in how you might apply these and then there is simple were is the heart in all this and all would agree we could always stand more virtues leaders in all segments of society . It is a very rich illuminating journey for those who choose it .

    I remain in your service

    Richard R pieper sr
    • Rajendra Patil Hunma
    • General Manager - HR, Currimjee Jeewanjee & Co Ltd, Mauritius
    As long as the confusion between exercising leadership with exercising authority / power is maintained, it would be difficult to see manifestations of 'Servant Leadership' or any kind of real leadership for that matter.
    • James Scouller
    • Executive Coach, The Scouller Partnership
    I've posted a blog article elsewhere on this exact same topic: "Why Do We Have So Few Servant Leaders?"

    In essence, I suggested there are three reasons.

    The first is that transactional leaders outnumber transactional leaders.

    You see, I'd say that most servant leaders are what James MacGregor Burns would have called "transformational" leaders. They tap into people's needs and values, inspire them with new possibilities and raise their confidence, conviction and desire to achieve a common, moral, motivating purpose. But transactional leaders aren't motivated by a higher, moral purpose - instead they concentrate on getting things done via a "I'll give you this if you give me that" approach. For example, politicians promising favours in exchange for votes.

    My point is that our political parties and business organisations make it much easier for transactional leaders to float to the surface.

    The second reason is that few leaders emphasise the importance of embodying a motivating vision.

    That's partly down to the sheer number of transactional leaders out there, who aren't interested in vision and "direction" almost by definition. But it's also because so many leaders in my experience fear they are a failure if they don't have a ready-made vision (and most don't) so they avoid the subject. The tragedy is that they haven't realised it's possible to co-create a vision with those around them.

    The third and last reason, I suggest, is that so many leaders have self-esteem problems. Deep down, for example, they may believe they are not good enough and fear the risk of failure and humiliation. That may surprise you, but after 3000 hours of executive coaching with CEOs and other leaders, I find it's true. It's just that most leaders are good at disguising their fears.

    Why is a lack of self-esteem a factor behind the dearth of servant leaders? Well, a person who lacks self-esteem is forced (unconsciously) to defend themselves against their worse fears. And I've found that it makes them self-centred to the point where it dilutes the desire to serve others. The answer? Teach leaders to work on the practice of self-mastery in order to free themselves from their fears.

    If you want to read the full article, you can find it here: http://www.three-levels-of-leadership.com/blog/self-mastery-2/why-do-we-have-so-few-servant-leaders/2013/08/09/
    • Bertrice Atie
    • Director, Accion Forestal
    It is prevalent!

    Maybe, It is just not studied or recorded enough. Great leaders need servant leadership skills. People need to feel and think their leaders take care of them, leading them to their maximum performance.

    There has been a historical miss-conception that leaders need to be egocentric, self-centered, etc. funded by intelligent sociopaths who excelled in leadership based on their unhumanly drives and supported by an inmense historically ignorant and subjugated population.

    Just 100 years ago, very few people had learning opportunities. Education has taken the power from sociopathic leaders and invited the SL leadership.

    There are succesfull SL thru history. It takes a lot of effort to be a SL leader, at the same time, they are quite difficult to recognize, as Lao-Tzu says, "is one of whose existence the people are barely aware"

    Being a succesful servant leader is not simple. "It requires qualities that are all too rare, such as "cardinal virtues" (Katherina Lange), a "paradoxical combination of courage AND humility," (Lisa Slayton), "(a) high degree of self control... " (Ashok Jain), and "validation needs (that) have largely been met ... (making it) very challenging for younger people to be servant leaders" (Mike Gatliff). Personal characteristics that get in the way of SL include "Ego (that) makes it difficult to 'want to serve'" (Randy Hoekstra), "greed" (Madeleine York), and "An unhealthy desire to control" (Judesther Marc)."

    These are qualities only educated people can appreciate, and now society is ready to appreciate them.
    • John Pitocchelli
    • General manager
    The line " It takes Courage and Humility" sums it all up. If you can't handle the truth then don't even try. This is the wave of the future and all leaders need to look at this concept if they wish to survive in the wave of entrepreneurship and empowerment! This is our future management style.
    • Dora Moremi
    • Deputy Chairperson, BCL Ltd
    An extremely potent question to pose- did Nelson Mandela sacrifice for good or bad? There is an example of servant leadership at work!!