Servant Leadership: Busting the Myths

September 23rd, 2016 By Vadivu Govind
Servant Leadership: Busting the Myths

Servant leadership is an extraordinary way of leading that creates outstanding business outcomes and at the same time builds caring and just communities. Servant leaders have existed for thousands of years. Robert Greenleaf developed it as a phrase, philosophy and set of practices in 1970. In clearing the myths surrounding it, I hope more people would be open to this amazing calling.

Myth 1 - "Servant leadership is about doing the work alongside those in the frontline."

If need be, a servant leader may roll up his sleeves and do the work in the frontline. He has humility and nothing would be seen as being beneath him. However this is not the litmus of a servant leader. A servant leader grows, cares for and supports his team members so they flourish and enjoy peak performance.

Greenleaf's best test for a servant leader is:

"It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead…..Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?"

Myth 2: Servant Leadership Doesn't Produce RESULTS In The Workplace! It's too "soft".

Servant leadership is a deep and holistic approach which values, among other things, empathy, love and deep thinking. And it brings outstanding results.

From a ten year study, it was found that the pre-tax portfolio return for eleven servant-led companies was 24.4% while it was 10.8% for 500 largest public corporations (Sipe, J.W. and Frick, D.M., 2009). The same authors found that the return to investors over 10 years was 1025% for servant-led companies while it was 122% for Standard and Poor 500 companies.

Different studies show that turnover is reduced with servant leaders; there is reduced costs related to employee issues; and trust grows with employees, customers and the community.

Myth 3 - "If you're too nice, people will push the work to the leader."

Servant leaders are not pushovers. That would not serve the greater good. They grow their team members to new levels of excellence and flourishing.

Myth 4 - "It's just another leadership approach. There are so many of them."

Yes, there are many leadership approaches. If you are looking for a humanistic approach that leads to sustainable and outstanding performance and is a meaningful and fulfilling calling, then it has a lot to offer.

Organisation Development expert Peter Senge said: "I believe that [Bob Greenleaf's] essay, 'The Servant as Leader' is the most singular and useful statement on leadership that I have read in the last 20 years. For many years, I simply told people not to waste their time reading all the other managerial leadership books. 'If you are really serious about the deeper territory of true leadership,' I would say, 'read Greenleaf.'