I typically do not respond to articles, columns, or other media outlets because, generally speaking, I have found that it does little good. However, on this particular occasion I was feeling that a balanced view was needed.
I read a column in the Atlanta business magazine Catalyst that prompted me to respond. The columnist was writing about Servant Leadership. You may have heard the management buzz-phrase before. Did it strike a cord with you? Is it a new idea?
To summarize the article, the author wrote that by applying certain steps and principles, you too, could be a servant leader. To imply that by putting on outward appearances you could feel good about yourself because you, as a leader, were practicing servanthood rubbed me wrong. An inner lifestyle had just been reduced to a management fad.
Too Many Jackets
I likened it to putting on the latest, trendy jacket. “Hmm, today I think I’ll try on the Servant Leadership jacket. After I’ve worn that around for a week or so, I’ll try the Resonant Leadership jacket.” And so it goes from one management trend to the next. Does putting on the jacket truly make you a servant leader or any kind of leader for that matter?
Management is not difficult for those that are naturally gifted in the area. Most of the role of managing is common sense. You’ve experienced it just like I have: There have been those bosses you have admired and would do anything for. Then there have been the bosses you’d like to throw out the window and jump out after them. Those people that are not gifted in management and that lack good sense should not be put in charge of others. If a poor manager showed issues with a little responsibility, why should we heap greater responsibility on them? Common sense says, put people in their areas of strength — you will be glad you did and they will thank you for it as well.
My litmus test for true Servant Leaders is to ask the employees in an organization their thoughts. They know who in leadership are for real and those who are putting on jackets. You can hide your poor skills for a time but, evetually, you will be found out.
So, can servant leadership be learned? Yes, but it has to become a lifestyle change and, frankly, most of us tend to be self-centered rather than others-centered (I know I do). As leaders, do we have the “guts” to stick to this management style? For those gifted with service, it will come naturally, for others it will be a lifetime of diligence. The real lasting-change needs to come from the inside not the outside.
Don’t let trendy management practices entice you. Use common sense, talk to your employees, work out of your strengths, and commit to serving others…the opposite of what conventional wisdom would say.
Now, there’s a new idea!
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