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Debunking Common Myths About Servant Leadership

October 21, 2019 Matt Rocco

When the concept of servant leadership was first introduced in the 1970s, it received a lot of push back from business leaders who were used to operating according to traditional power structures. Today, some of those attitudes still exist, even among mainstream management. There are many myths about the effects of this leadership style:

  • Servant leaders are weak.
  • Servant leaders have low standards.
  • Servant leaders don’t have successful organizations.

None of these myths accurately reflects the outcome of true service-based management in organizations that use it, though. When company leaders put their employees’ needs before their own, the results are usually more positive than if the leaders focus primarily on what they can demand from the people who work for them. The guiding principle of this style is that the best way to inspire employees to take care of your business is to take care of your employees. Each of these myths represents an inadequate view of how much people can achieve when they work in an atmosphere that is empowering rather than overpowering.

Myth #1 – Servant Leaders Are Weak

Sometimes when people think of servant leadership, they assume the leader in question is inherently weak. They hear the term “servant” and often automatically interpret it as “subservient.” They think of a person who is afraid to disagree with or correct errant employees or one who is more concerned with clinging to peace rather than taking the lead. This connotation couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to Ken Blanchard, those who lead by balancing service with leadership inspire not only loyalty in their employees but also improved service to their customers. They don’t completely abandon organizational goals or give employees carte blanche on how to go about their workday. In fact, they do the exact opposite. They set clear goals and then work with their team to understand what everyone needs to make those goals a reality. By removing obstacles that impede progress and supplying the tools needed to succeed, these leaders strengthen rather than weaken their team. Rather than react with apathy or rebellion, employees whose supervisors communicate a regular commitment to their professional development tend to reciprocate that commitment and pass on this excellence to those whom they are tasked with serving.

Myth #2 – Servant Leaders Have Low Standards

Traditional leadership hones in on productivity as the measure of an organization’s success regardless of the method used to get there. Servant leadership, on the other hand, is the understanding that productivity is the result of a well-equipped workforce. Leaders who serve their staff don’t have to sacrifice quality work to do so. In fact, service is one of the best ways to help employees focus on organizational goals, allowing bosses to set even higher standards than organizations who use traditional management styles.

Because many workers may be used to a more hierarchical structure that relies on top-down power dynamics, they may misunderstand the care and concern expressed by those who practice servant leadership and perceive it as an acceptance of mediocrity. To ensure the service you extend to your employees fosters their professional growth, consider adapting these five ways to be a strong servant leader:

  • Set clear expectations.
  • Give timely and constructive feedback.
  • Hold both employees and leadership accountable for their behavior.
  • Provide excellent training, mentoring and other resources for growth.
  • Reward performance excellence with the freedom to make more independent choices.

Myth #3 – Servant Leaders Don’t Have Successful Organizations

The rise in the popularity of servant leadership over the last two decades coincides with an increase in employee engagement in many organizations across the country. Gallup reports that employee engagement is up to 34% nationwide. Those who display strong leadership in call center not by their power over employees but rather by working to make sure employees have everything they need to perform well and have the opportunity to do what they do best often have employees who are highly engaged. Highly engaged employees are significantly more productive. Their commitment to the organization naturally results in its success.

Those who practice servant leadership set their organizations up for success by gathering information on what the people doing the work need to get it done. Great servant leaders know how to understand that different people have different strengths. Rather than trying to force people into roles that don’t fit their natural skillsets, they use this vital information to maximize the productivity of their teams.

Traditional leadership styles recognize the importance of employee productivity and organizational achievement. Despite widespread misunderstanding of its effectiveness, servant leadership has proven to be a better way of achieving these goals. When business leaders develop their staff, they set up both employees and the organization for success.