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Serve first: Introduction to servant leadership

 

The Concept

 

The definition and concept of the servant-leader was first introduced into the general consciousness by Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s. His concept, as he described it, was that a person would begin with a drive to serve others, then consciously choose to aspire to leadership. As a concept, this clearly sits in sharp contrast to a person who desire first to lead, and then looks at how this might serve the people who follow them.

 

The stated benefits

 

The servant-leader will, as their priority, focus on the growth, development and general well-being of the people they lead, and the wider communities they belong to. They will be open to sharing power with others, rather than seeking to gain it for themselves, and they will support people to perform at their best.

 

These same reported attributes might also be seen at an organisational level – a company, for example, fixedly aiming to be a servant-leader will look first to serve the community they operate in. It will prioritise the needs of others first, building, in the process, greater engagement and increased mutual trust.

 

Criticisms

 

There is a considerable level of scepticism about the theoretical basis of servant leadership, often revolving around the idea that the style is too passive in nature, and potentially also suffering from the negative connotations created by the actual terminology – ‘servant’ perhaps doesn’t wield a suitably leader-like tone to be readily accepted by some.

 

It has also been argued by some critics that the drive to serve doesn’t really fit with a general egotistical human drive to seek power. On this basis, the concept can sound rather unrealistic and hopelessly optimistic of peoples’ nature.
 
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