Common Objections and Misconceptions of SERVANT Leadership

Many executives wrestle with the term SERVANT Leadership. The term servant, itself, disturbs many people otherwise advocating these principles. For example, in the landmark work “Good to Great” Jim Collins explained his team almost used the term “Servant Leader” instead of “Level 5 Leader” but feared it would be misinterpreted.

Executive Objecting with a Stop SignHere are some of the common misconceptions leading to these objections:

Servant Implies Slavery: Servant implies service to others. Slavery implies a sense of being owned by others. Servant Leadership is not slavery and the leader is not owned by those they serve.

Servant Implies Subservience: Subservient behavior implies unquestioning support. This is not Servant Leadership. In order to effectively serve others, you must often do what is unpopular with followers.

Focus on Followers: Many opponents of Servant Leadership think these leaders serve only their followers. The truth is a Servant Leader must focus on serving all stakeholders. These include followers, employees, customers, partners, investors, the community and more.

Religious Concept: As a Christian, I am proud of the fact that Servant Leadership principles are taught throughout The Bible.  A similar perspective exists across most major religions. However, the concept of Servant Leadership alone, is secular in nature.

Whatever the reason, most opponents of the term SERVANT Leadership have at least one of these misconceptions. Whatever your perspective, it is important to get the facts. Jim Collins was afraid people would have false preconceived notions. Here’s hoping this concern is not proliferated.

Question: What are other common objections or misconceptions of Servant Leadership?

About the Author:

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder ModernServantLeader.com - the leading blog on servant leadership and top 35 site for any leadership topic, globally. Ben also speaks and consults on IT and management topics for a large variety of clients. Find out more about him at https://ModernServantLeader.com.

3 Comments

  1. David McCuistion October 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    Ben, here is what I wrote in LinkedIn on the Center for Creative Leadership Group. Quite frankly “everyone” is a “Servant” in the Organization. Top Leaders need to ask themselves: “Am I a Leader?, Am I a Servant? or more appropriately, “Am I a Servant Leader?” To me there is only one logical answer.

    Everyone is a Follower in every orgainzation. Even the CEO of huge Corporations are folllowers to the Board of Directors and Shareholders. Presidents are followers of the people as long as the people take leadership responsibility and hold their leaders responsible for their action. Likewise, everyone is a Leader in every organization, IF they will take upon themselves the respnsibility of leadership at their level – holding others (which means all) accountable to the policies and practices of the organization.Furthermore, everyone is a Servant to others in the organization and “should” / “is expected” to “serve” the needs of the organization through their individual contribution. The Servant Leader follows their “inner voice” or conscience to make decision for the betterment of the organization.Followership is a trait of what I call “leading from within the organization” to exhibit their own efficiency and effectiveness, i.e. their productivity, in meeting organizational vision, mission and goals.The list of follower traits in the article are leadership traits of employees (followers) to maintain accountability of others — i.e. leaders/followers/employees — in the daily environment. Leaders and Followers need to understand: “It is not about me, it is about others”, which includes the organization as a whole. If this ideal is “followed” and practiced, we would need no distinction between “good” and “other” leaders/followers/members/employees/etc. — all would be in one “Top Notch” category.OK so I am an eternal optimist! I’ve seen it work to some degree. It is a continual process of which I think we all have a responsibility to nurture. Keep the Quest Alive!

    • David McCuistion October 30, 2012 at 2:23 pm - Reply

      I apologize for the sentences that run together in my post. I typed separate paragraphs that when posted didn’t show-up the way I typed them. There are also a couple of misspelled words. I humbly apologize.

    • Ben Lichtenwalner October 31, 2012 at 7:59 pm - Reply

      Great point David: “Everyone is a Follower in every organization.” A simple yet powerful concept, with so much detail underlying it. 

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