General Archive

Metaphors for ‘leadership’ – from the World Open Space on Open Space

A couple of weeks ago I joined in with the World Open Space on Open Space (WOSonOS) 2012 here in London.  People came from all over the world to Stoke Newington Town Hall in North London for three days of Open Space activity – about using Open Space.  Open Space originator Harrison Owen was there, and it was excellent to meet him again over 15 years since I first came across him and Open Space. Continue reading

Servant-leadership – why isn’t it more prevalent (Forbes/HBS piece)

As reguservant-leadershiplar readers may know, I see host leadership as being a ‘build’ on Robert Greenleaf’s pioneering work about servant-leadership. A few weeks ago an interesting piece appeared at Forbes about work by Prof James Heskett of Harvard Business School on why, if servant-leadership is so good, it’s not more prevalent.

Heskett does a nice job of asking the question, but the comments below reveal some interesting answers. These include:

  • Getting to the top in US corporations requires trumpet-blowing and self promotion.
    In the Twitter age, ‘it’s all about me’.
    MBA programs don’t teach it.

I would agree with these very much, and also add:

  • ■  Confusion in the modern world about what a ‘servant’ actually is and does. People tend to think of ‘waiter’ or something, whereas the master-servant relationship is much richer and more dynamic than that. Servant-leadership seems to have more impact where there is a sophisticated idea of service, like church organisations.
    ■   The paradox of if the leader is servant, then the organisation must be ‘master’. It seems an odd relationship (though I have no doubt that Greenleaf intended this as a thought-provoker).
    ■   The metaphor of servant-leadership doesn’t appeal to those who have been traditionally cast in servant roles – women, ethnic minorities. They are fed up with this position and may be seeking something different.

All of these can be seen differently using the ‘leader-as-host’ metaphor. This adds a dimension of proactivity and responsibility, within a framework including service at appropriate times.

What do you think? Why hasn’t servant-leadership made more impact so far?