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?

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