Improving Your Serve
By Charles R. Swindoll
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. 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."
Servant leaders are felt to be effective because the needs of followers are so looked after that they reach their full potential, hence perform at their best. A strength of this way of looking at leadership is that it forces us away from self-serving, domineering leadership and makes those in charge think harder about how to respect, value and motivate people reporting to them.
Looked at critically, however, we have to ask whether the idea of employees as partners might not be better than the idea of leaders as servants. It's just as paternalistic to switch from controlling boss to nurturing boss. Treating employees as partners is even more respectful and valuing. Serving people's needs creates the image of being slavish or subservient, not a very positive image. In addition, leaders need to serve the needs of shareholders ahead of those of employees. Surely, it makes more sense to say simply that leaders should Consider the needs of employees not be a servant to them. Shifting metaphors from leaders-as-autocrats to leaders-as-servants is going from one extreme to the other. Neither end of the spectrum is very revealing about how organizations function. The principles of servant leadership are admirable. It is the image of Servant with its slave-like connotation that is problematic and misleading.
In what I've previously read and studied, the definition of "slave-like" didn't...