When Servant Leaders Fail

Servant leadership is one of about 10 dominant leadership styles. Much has been written about this particular approach in the last handful of years. Some even proclaim it is the only type of leadership that should be taught or encouraged.

Given that many in our industry are immersed in service it only makes sense to me that there is a natural gravitation of some people to focus on being a servant leader. However, there are some common faults/concerns that you need to pay attention to if you are going to do it properly. Five thoughts:

  1. One-way service does not work. That is really naive, an abuse of your contributions, and a waste of everyone’s time. It is also irresponsible. You serving others should result in those others also serving others. If they are selfish sponges, it is not working.
  2. If you do not challenge self-serving behaviours, the recipient of service leadership will use your energy to only serve her/his self interest. The point of service leadership is to create servants of others as well.
  3. A servant leader must be intolerant of helplessness, isolation, and personal protection of self-interests. Servant leadership requires interconnectivity.
  4. Teams that believe in service leadership are open in their questions of each other: how can I serve you? how can you serve me? how can we serve each other?
  5. Servant leaders provide others the opportunity for growth, however, this is done with very honest and detailed feedback. Issues are brought up with grace. But they are not ignored or glossed over. Great servant leaders have a great feedback loop.

We hope you will consider joining us at the OrgCode Leadership Academy on Ending Homelessness October 20-22 where Servant Leadership – and other leadership styles – will be reviewed as it relates to ending homelessness.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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