Is Servant Leadership a new concept? Does it provide a modern and relevant new perspective to serve people?

What is servant leadership? Is it an extract and an adaptation of some of the Bible’s main principles adapted to the digital 21st-century reader? Is it the new name given to the Dale Carnegie’s and James Covey’s main principles “how to make new friends” series and the 7 habits?

To my point of view, servant leadership is not a new principle but just a new name given to known common sense of leadership behavior as good human beings.

Even though it is not a new principle it is refreshing and provides a modern way and generates inner thoughts to encourage being a better person and a better leader (for you and others) in the connected world. Servant leadership has been adapted to a new generation of readers and to our fast-changing environment in organizations and communities.

So, from my perspective, if servant leadership helps new generations of leaders (and non-leaders) to be better at leading and behave as healers to one another it would’ve achieved a great goal.

I’d like to highlight some traps to avoid in applying servant leadership if not well understood or used:

1/ Over questioning!

I see more and more managers asking too many questions to others (team, colleagues,…) and not taking enough actions themselves when required.

Don’t you think repeated questioning is annoying and intrusive: “How do you feel? Do you have what you need? How can I help you there? Do you want this? Or that? … Did you achieve that?” → Leave me alone!

Servant leadership might cause this effect – So please, select the right questions and Do Your Tasks when it’s your turn, instead of just asking questions to people all the time. It is just stressful especially if it is too frequent and repetitive.

Otherwise, the questionee would start to doubt the sincerity and think – “Do you really care about the answer? Is it just a play or a way to hide something or to manipulate? You should better spend your time doing your job! ”. It can as well be seen as a compensation technique to hide incompetence.

Yes, too many questions might generate this kind of thought from the questionee(s).

2/ Not being genuine in your concern!

The balance between being genuine at helping and manipulating is difficult and not easy to describe, especially in the professional environment where people are paid to deliver a result and achieve objectives. From my perspective, what comes from the heart and what is aligned with a common interest is giving help, otherwise, it can be assimilated to a kind of a manipulation technique.

Using Servant Leadership principles have to be guided by a genuine, helping, and positive mindset.

Looking beyond, I would recommend reviewing and debating these 3 Levels of shifted organizations.

  • Level 1 – Adopting Servant Leadership – as an individual/leader, or company’s culture

  • Level 2 – Adopting Agile Organization – using agile kind of way of working (continuous improvement, role-based organization, tribes, instant value, sprint,…).

  • Level 3 – Embracing OPAL Organization – this is a really new shift of organization and leadership in modern business collaboration.

Easy to say, but really hard to apply – don’t you think?




Written by Jean-Christophe Laurent,, CEO at Penon Partners

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