The concept of Servant Leadership was developed and espoused by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay he released and distributed selectively in 1970. His essay, “The Servant as Leader” was based on his 40-years of experience at the US industrial giant, AT&T, where he worked mostly within the recruitment and assessment section.
Greenleaf’s essay offered a more ethical and people-centric approach to leading than was common in many sectors in the US at that time, and probably still is. The existent hierarchical, top down, coercive approach was epitomised by industrial language where top management positions were titled Head of ‘Something Important’ (the brains) and the rest were factory ‘hands’, ‘foot’ soldiers (who run errands) and ‘hires’ (recruits to be used and returned like rental cars).
Greenleaf’s thinking offered a much more humanistic and potentially better way of leading and running an organisation. It was certainly ahead of its time. Fifty years later, many of the mechanistic management terms are still in use and the top down coercive alpha style of management is as alive today (at least in some sectors) as it was back then, albeit now more obscured by self styled masks and politically correct management lingua.
Servant Leadership can be captured in the style epitomised by Nelson Mandela in his later years. Mandela listened, empathised, healed, was self-aware, influenced, conceptualised, had foresight, applied a stewardship approach, and grew role models in his mission to grow the entire community.
In contrast, the traditional management and business administration approach spawned from the US in the 1980s which focuses entirely on money; cost cutting and profit growth using the heavy hitter ‘my way or the highway’ authoritarian style of leadership (if you can call it leadership).
Even after fifty years there haven’t been many other examples of the humanistic style being fully and successfully implemented in the broader sense that Greenleaf’s philosophy proposed.
What is the ISL and SmartLeader View on Servant Leadership?
Is the Servant Leadership concept, written up as an essay fifty years ago in the industrial era, still relevant in the very different world we live in today?
Our view is that the basic tenants of Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership are as relevant today as they were back in 1970. Perhaps even more so, given that we now work in fast moving and technically/sociologically complex workplaces, where people have replaced machinery as the real assets of organisations.
These days we have the benefit of smart, highly educated and talented young people who are keen to be involved, to contribute with innovative design and technology work, and to be part of the distributed intelligence of the organisation. These people thrive in a dynamic, people-centric, collaborative environment operating on the principles outlined by Greenleaf. The leader in this modern context needs to be akin to a tutor and assignment supervisor, role model and mentor rather than a servant.
How does the ISL Leadership Framework differ from the Servant Leadership Philosophy?
Although we haven’t consciously worked on or intentionally adopted the Servant Leadership philosophy, it is apparent that our ISL Strategic Leadership Framework has alignment with the ten original guiding servant leadership principles.
The ISL point of difference relates to context and application. For example, the Strategic Leadership Framework was developed in the context of the digital era, which includes a people-centred style of leadership configured in a digital era context that provides:
Lean, co-creative, intuitive design and development
Team work and team collaboration within teams and across the organisation
A focus on integration of people, teams and data
Evidenced based testing, powered by digitally integrated analytics and diagnostics
Simple to understand infographics and information flows fed to leaders in real time on a ‘need-to-know’ basis
Words matter too and ISL use contemporary commercial words to reflect what society considers acceptable in commonwealth countries at this time. Naturally, servant wouldn’t resonate these days, nor would it signal the true sense of Greenleaf’s intentions, as they infer servility and approval seeking.
In a nutshell, the ISL approach to leadership is to build reflective, resilient and aware leaders who have the skills and tools to build an innovative, agile culture that engages and drives high performance team outcomes.
The ISL framework views leadership through the lens of Lead Self, Lead Team, Lead Strategically, Lead Multi-Teams / Lead Enterprise. This ISL model is applicable to business forms, small and large; government agencies, universities and research institutes; as well as NGOs.
Developing Leaders Requires more than a 50-year old Philosophy
Leadership is a big topic with many views, observers, and expert leadership commentators. Best seller leadership books abound in airport bookshops around the world. Yet, despite all these resources, there is a widespread lack of clarity about what effective leadership really involves and how to actually deploy the conceptual theories.
The ISL view set out above reflects our 17 years of model building and testing with over 2,150 senior executives. It is our view and it’s what we practice. Given the daily changing world, we strive to stay at the forefront and therefore our developments are work-in-progress and always under review.
Our take is that the Servant Leadership philosophy has over time morphed into what can be genetically described as ‘people-centric’ leadership; the philosophy that many leadership providers widely adopt.
Despite good intentions and much investment in leadership development, competitive career rivalry and high stress politicised cultures can mean that bullying and harassment still lingers in pockets throughout many organisations, particularly in the legal, banking and government sectors.
That’s why we at ISL adopt an evidence-based approach and use analytic tools to identify where the challenges are and how best to get traction throughout organisations at the team leader and high performing team level.
We would value receiving your feedback, views, examples, and suggestions on this topic so that we as an ISL community can all co-create, test and refine our leadership models and practices together.
http://www.smartleaderapps.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/image.png483500Geoff LoriganGeoff Lorigan2018-04-29 22:26:342018-08-29 00:57:45SERVANT LEADERSHIP IN A NUTSHELL: An antidote to bullying or an outdated concept?
The Institute for Strategic Leadership [ISL] has designed and developed Smart Leader Apps to provide Strategy, Finance and OD-Tools and a digital performance platform for its clients and other businesses and government organisations.