What’s your Passion #41 – Servant Leadership

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What is Servant Leadership?
Everyone is talking about it.

The modern phrase was coined in 1970 by Robert K. Greenleaf:

  • “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.”

Great soundbite. Too bad it’s not really an accurate description of reality. My observation is that serving others is anything but a natural feeling. And to me this is the wrong starting point since the overwhelming evidence is that if people are left to their own devices, then the results will be anything but optimal.

On this foundational point, I vigorously disagree with Robert. People are not “good.” For example, people aren’t able to follow ten simple Vision Statements (laws) carved in stone. So instead we have 50,000 laws on the books that they still can’t follow, either. It is a disastrous starting point to believe that people “naturally” want to serve others.

That simply isn’t true. Just a quick scan of the news headlines on any given day demonstrates that “goodness” and/or demonstrable servant leadership is the exception, not the rule.

My view is that Servant Leadership is an active, conscious choice only and not a “feeling.”

The quote from Robert continues:

  • Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

It is the ability to rise above the true nature of the individual and choose to be a servant leader that is important. On this point I am in alignment with Robert – that it is act of the will to make the right choice to serve others.

Greenleaf received a his inspiration from “Journey to the East,” a work of fiction by Hermann Hesse. It’s interesting that few people in the West look at the Judeo-Christian roots of servant leadership and instead rush to the East to try to find their “truth.”

The Greatest Servant Leader to ever walk this planet stated that “greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends.” Not only did He talk the talk, He walked the talk.

He taught His followers about True servant leadership, “…and when He was in the house, He began to question them: “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.””

This wisdom is close to 2,000 years old and is still valid today. It is incorporated into the 4R Model in Flow:

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All philosophies and religions in existence today claim they have the “right truth.” While most people don’t discuss ethics and morals at work, it impacts their job every day. This is because everyone Distills their values & attitudes from whatever “truth” it is that they follow. From those values & attitudes they act. Those actions lead to results.

It is using the 4R Model in reverse where it becomes most powerful since it helps you understand each person’s (team member’s, etc.) “truth.”

Copyright © 1972 – 2021 Kallman AB all rights reserved

If you are not getting the Right Results, then you need to look at the person’s Actions. In getting to the root cause, you might need to assess their values & attitudes. My observation is that more often than not, it is the person’s “truth” that is causing the wrong results.

Shifting people’s mindset to the right truth requires training, coaching and mentoring (plus the time to do the shift).

For example, I had an agile team that required going through the Agile training for PO and/or SM multiple times (even had them go through the training one time with Jeff Sutherland himself). Even after that, they were still struggling shifting their views. This was over a two (2) year period of time.

Most organizations will not be that patient with individuals and/or teams that are unwilling to make new decisions based on new information. Ultimately everyone on that team was either let go or left on their own for a new role in other organizations.

This team was a perfect example that it is NOT natural to have the desire to serve. If they had a natural desire to serve, it did not manifest at any point during the two year journey with them.

Based on my almost 40 years of experience in business (across the globe in multiple industries), I would postulate that it is not a natural tendency to have a desire to serve. If we look at the employee engagement numbers from Gallup (both for the US and globally), those pretty much dispel the myth that Greenleaf is propagating as one of his base assumptions.

Servant Leadership is anything but a “natural feeling,” rather it is clearly a choice.

If you missed my post on Collin’s Five (5) levels of leadership or my post on creating Stark Raving Loyal Teams, then click the associated link for those.

Everything boils down to leadership.

Let’s chat!


For those that are not familiar with the Flow Leadership Framework, it is what’s next for businesses and organizations that are ready to succeed regardless of the methods, frameworks or management tools that they use throughout their enterprise.

Are you ‘in the zone’ of optimal performance right now as a person, team or enterprise? Did you get there by accident or by focused intentional acts?

“Flow” gives you the tools and practices needed to create and maintain an optimal state of high performance as an individual, team or organization.

The Flow Leadership Framework turbocharges “business agile” leadership.


PS Here are the associated links to this blog post for:

#culture #scrum #agile #pmi #pmp #kanban #lean #flow #scaledagile #transformation #change #transform