There are a lot of people that write on the topic of leadership. A specific topic that I’ve seen multiple times over the course of the last couple of years is called “servant leadership”. In essence, its overall principle is that managers and leaders should be at the mercy of their employees by making sure they have all available tools for them to be successful and are always ready to give them everything they need, including your time.

A guy named Robert Greenleaf came up with the concept in the 70’s, which figures. He wrote something called “The Servant As Leader”, and was quoted with these two paragraphs:

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

I have problems with a lot of this, most of which is the terminology. I may be sensitive to it, but it would follow my pattern. With my background, I have problems with the concept of the terms “master” and “slave” when used in “normal” speak.

When I was first learning about computer hardware and how to take computers apart and put them back together, I cringed every time I heard the terms “slave drive” and “master drive”. I easily understood the terms, but felt they were somewhat insensitive.

That’s before I learned that there was this sexual practice where one person defers to the other as the master, calls them “Master”, and acts as they figured slaves acted, including getting whipped. Until hearing about the singer Rihanna last year, I had never heard of a single black person who owned up to participating in this “game”; I just couldn’t imagine black people allowing themselves to ever call someone else “master”, let alone be willing to think of themselves as a slave, even in role play (okay, movies don’t count).

Anyway, let’s get back to this concept of “servant leadership” again. Here’s some reasons why I don’t support the theory:

1. Leaders aren’t supposed to be there for the whim of employees. That’s not what it’s all about at all. Leaders are supposed to be there “for” their employees when they’re needed, and they’re supposed to show support and, gasp, leadership.

2. Seeing leaders as servants absolves them and their employees of certain responsibilities. If the leader is the servant of the people, then the leader could potentially say “Not my fault; I gave them everything they needed to succeed.” The employees could say “Hey, so and so didn’t give us enough; we got lots, but not all of it.”

3. Is it possible for true fairness to occur in such a relationship? In essence, if one employee has greater needs than another, can the leader possibly handle it? Teachers can’t, that’s for sure; they either have to decide to concentrate on the strongest students in class or the weakest, unless the entirety of the class is pretty close to each other.

4. Don’t leaders have responsibilities to others instead of just their employees? Is the entire company the master of the leader? The entire clientele? The world? At what point does the leader get to deal with his or her own issues, responsibilities, duties and psyche?

I might be seeing this from an obstructed view because I hate the terminology, much like I hate the idea of one person calling another person “boss“. I do believe leaders should put their own employees needs above those of someone else’s, but when all is said and done leaders first must be true to themselves, then to the goals of the organization. Frankly, I don’t see a servant in any of those roles.

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