Leadership styles and models have been challenged by various researchers and leadership has still left executives with rudimental and anecdotal ways to lead – leaving a gap between leadership effectiveness, satisfying followers, and meeting customer needs. Transformational leadership seems to be the in-vogue leadership style for today’s uncertain business environment and will continue to be as more followers are transformed into great leaders because the demand for leadership has increased big league.
Leadership studies have remained relatively silent on how to integrate styles and concepts from diverse disciplinary domains to provide a rich basis for understanding the true leadership theoretical and applicable concepts. These studies have failed to disclose the nature of filling the leadership gaps between performance and success. In many instances, there is no direct connection between leadership styles and models, with the exception of one leadership theoretical model – transformational leadership – which has had an impact upon today’s changing situations.
Sure, there are critics of transformational leadership, but do not let that stop you from implementing it and learning how to master it. For example, two scholars by the names of Stephen Zaccaro and Zachary Horn critique the literature of leadership for having no relevance between leadership styles and today‘s changing business environment.1 However, these authors go posit that transformational leadership style unfolds results in organisations, influencing employee individual interests to align with institutional interests, and through inspiring followers to create new ideas and innovations for effective business outcomes. The key idea from this article is to provide a leadership style that has emerged as more applicable, easy to implement, and more adaptable today than the many others that are available today.
Why Isn’t Servant Leadership Style More Prevalent?
Robert Greenleaf, first wrote an essay that later became his book title The Servant Leader. He introduced the term ‘Servant leadership’ into the business literature for the first time and caused some controversy in the corporate boardroom while added some value among the religious clergy. Greenleaf was not only a scholar, Servant leadership came out of his work experiences at organisations such as MIT and the influence of Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East. Greenleaf largely gained his insights through the central character of ‘Leo,’ who becomes a servant leader and speaks about the Law of Service. Greenleaf recognized the main message of this story, and concluded that:
“the central meaning of it was that a great leader has experience as a servant to others, and he felt that this fact is central to his or her greatness. True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others.”
Servant leaders are those who turn the organisational chart upside down, putting the customers at the top. Servant leadership can be clearly seen as rooted in the clergical leadership perspective in that Christ’s leadership when Greenleaf says that the words “service,” “to serve” and “servant” occur over 1300 times in the revised version of the St. James bible. For example, Jesus once said:
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to place his life as a ransom for many.”
The servant leadership style highlights Jesus as an ultimate example of a servant leader, and suggests applying the leadership insights that Jesus gives us within organisations. According to the model, only service to others, is the pathway to real significance. Michele Lawrence and Larry Spears in their book, Practicing Servant Leadership: Succeeding through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness, concentrate on the characteristics of a servant leader, and recommend ten fundamental characteristics:
9. Commitment to the growth of people, and;
10. Building community.3
Greenleaf acknowledges some criticisms about servant leadership theory, and posits that:
“In a time of crisis, like the leadership crisis we are now in today, if too many potential builders are taken in by a complete absorption with dissecting the wrong and by a zeal for instant perfection, then the movement so many of us want to see will be set back. The danger, perhaps, is to hear the analyst too much and artist too little.” 4
Furthermore, this leadership style has been challenged for a lack of adequate empirical studies to substantiate its academic rigor and is often shelved as a learning tool as opposed to a leadership application. An example to this scholarly debate, Deborah Eicher-Catt, the existing literature on servant leadership servant leadership is criticized for gender bias in its theoretical perspectives.5 Also, servant leadership is criticized as being inapplicable for real-world scenarios.
About the Author
Mostafa Sayyadi, CAHRI, AFAIM, CPMgr, works with senior business leaders to effectively develop innovation in companies, and helps companies – from start-ups to the Fortune 100 – succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders. He is a business book author and a long-time contributor to HR.com and Consulting Magazine and his work has been featured in these top-flight business publications.
1 Zaccaro, S.J., & Horn, Z.N. (2003). Leadership theory and practice: Fostering an effective symbiosis. The Leadership Quarterly, 14(6), 769-806.
2 Greenlead, RK 1988, The Power of Servant-Leadership, Berrett-Koehler Publishers: San Francisco, CA.
3 Lawrence, M & Spears, LC 2004, Practicing Servant Leadership: Succeeding through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.
4 Greenleaf, RK 1977, Servant Leadership: a Journey into the Nature of Legistimate Power and Greatness, Paulist Press: Nahwah, NJ.
5 Eicher-Catt, D 2005, The myth of servant-leadership. Women and Language, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 17-25.
6 Lee, C & Zemke, R 1993, The search for spirit in the workplace, Training, vol. 30, pp. 21-28.
7 George, B 2003, Authentic leadership: rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.
8 Kernis, M & Goldman, B 2006, A multicomponent conceptualization of authenticity: theory and research. In M. P. Zanna (eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Academic Press: San Diego.
9 Ford, J & Harding, N 2011, The impossibility of the ‘true self’ of authentic leadership, Leadership, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 463–479
10 Gardiner , RA 2011, A Critique of the Discourse of Authentic Leadership, International Journal of Business and Social Science, vol. 2, no. 15, pp. 99-104.
11 García-Morales, VJ, Jiménez-Barrionuevo, MM & Gutiérrez-Gutiérrez, L 2012 Transformational leadership influence on organizational performance through organizational learning and innovation, Journal of Business Research, vol. 65, no. 7, pp. 1040-1050.
12 Patiar, A & Mia, L 2009 Transformational leadership style, market competition and departmental performance: Evidence from luxury hotels in Australia, International Journal of Hospitality Management, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 254-262.
13 Zhu, W, Chew, IK & Spangler, WD 2005 CEO transformational leadership and organizational outcomes: The mediating role of human capital-enhancing human resource management, The Leadership Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 39-52.
14 Yoon, KS 2005 Testing the Firestone and McElroy Knowledge Management Model: An Empirical Study, State University of New York.