Leadership in the 21st Century: Contrasting Views of Leadership and Their Utility for My Practice

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HML 1001: Leadership of change
S. McGowan. June 2008

Leadership in the 21st Century: Contrasting Views of Leadership and their Utility for My Practice


In this paper I will examine two modern views of leadership. The leadership models I have decided to review are Servant-Leadership and Discretionary Leadership and my aim is to describe them, explore some of their similarities and differences and consider their usefulness for my own practice.


Robert K Greenleaf defined Servant-Leadership in1970 in his essay ‘The Servant as Leader’ (Greenleaf, 1970). Greenleaf attributes the inspiration for his idea to the novel ‘Journey to the East’ by Herman Hesse (1932), where the central character Leo; servant to a party of travellers, proves ultimately to be the vital member of the group, whose mission fails without him. The servant-leadership theory is based on a model of empowerment and contrasts sharply with models of leadership that are based on power. Instead of concentrating on the acquisition of power and control, servant-leaders focus on helping people to grow and fulfil their potential. Greenleaf states:

‘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’. (Greenleaf 1970)

The servant-leadership theory advocates the role of leader as serving rather than controlling. By serving the needs of their workforce, clients and communities servant-leaders can harness the full force of an empowered group. Servant-leadership models promote a sense of community and an holistic approach to work and, ultimately, society.

Steven R Covey, vice chairman of Franklin Covey, the world’s largest management and leadership development organisation, described four roles of leadership in his keynote speech to the Greenleaf Centre’s (www.greenleaf.org) 1999 conference (Covey 1999). These are:

(i)Setting an Example: Leaders must work hard, contribute and model integrity, humility and the values of servant-leadership. Integrity breeds confidence and generates followers. (ii)Pathfinding: Creating a vision that involves and inspires, and that through empowerment, mobilises the efforts of others. This way, strategic planning is values based and derived from an understanding of people’s needs. This is in stark contrast to power models, which espouse individualistic missions and goals for organisations to be ‘herded’ towards. (iii)Alignment: Aligning the systems and structures of an organisation to serve the agreed task and vision. Values need to be ‘institutionalised’ and language and action must be consistent. (iv)Empowerment: This is what Covey describes as the ‘fruit’ of the first three roles:

When you have a common vision and value system, and you have put into place structures and systems reinforcing that vision, when you have institutionalised that kind of moral authority – its like lifeblood feeding the culture, the feelings of people, the norms, the mores – feeding it constantly…You can…release the enormous human creativity, the human ingenuity, the resourcefulness, the intelligence of people to the accomplishment of those purposes. Everything connects together: the quality of the relationships, the common purpose and values. You find that people will organize themselves. They’ll manage themselves. People are drawn to doing their own best thing and accomplishing that worthy purpose, that vision. That’s empowerment! (Covey 1999)

Max DePree has famously defined leadership as ‘a serious meddling in other people’s lives’ (DePree 2002). DePree is concerned with the interdependence of members of organisations and has argued that leadership can’t be just about the individual:

When we think about...
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