Servant Leadership - the time is now

3rd January 2019




' there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come ' Victor Hugo.

Or put more plainly ' every dog has it's day ' . Why is Servant Leadership in the ascent? why are folks turning to this tried and tested approach to managing oneself and leading others ? Why I am I busier than ever helping folks consider Servant Leadership ? Here are my thoughts, organised into three broad areas based on pull and push factors that continually surface when talking to folks about the state of leadership and as I ponder the state of the workplace.

  1. It's crazy out there

Today's workplaces are experiencing change at unprecedented rates, 10 years after global recession we're still struggling. Gallup report that every indicator of employee engagement has remained static for the last decade.


VUCA (volatility, uncertainty , complexity and ambiguity) is an acronym that describes perfectly the current , global climate. Conflict and uncertainty are on the rise and our values have shifted to make us more insular. High levels of unrest require specific skills, leaders who can build bridges, calm troubled waters, promote rapid learning, facilitate and collaborate will serve others best. The sooner we accept we simply can't know (or do) it all the better. We have to break the habit that sets leaders up to compete over collaborate and to help followers to seek out and respond to knowledge over authority.

Folks are looking for new patterns of behaviour and leadership to help navigate through the fog, the principles and practices of Servant Leadership when applied can help.

This diagram captures my thoughts on how the four VUCA states can be diluted with application of good (Servant) leadership practice.


2. Ways of Working - agile as being not doing

Typically I'm engaged to help organisations help employees move to new ways of working, those leading transformation tend to be focused on changing process and the more obvious indicators i.e. tools, org design, premises than on the less visible but more important work that is changing mind and skill set.

FREE ADVICE - don't even consider shifting ways of working unless coaching as a core competence is decent. If it's not then start here! Servant Leadership can be a great partner to new ways of working, the skills it looks to promote and develop are exactly those that can underwrite success.

Many organisations are looking to become more nimble, agile, leaner and improve responsive to the needs of its customers. Only those that can pick up the pace and adapt will survive. Gallup report that organisations that respond to change quickly and effectively create a sense of optimism with employees, optimism fuels productivity. If you aren't working on improving these three things then start.

  • Collaboration ; your folks should give a resounding yes to ' it's easy to collaborate here'.
  • Continual Learning ; people have the time, skills and tools to learn, reflect and improve. You train folks to think analytically.
  • Picking up the pace ; your leaders will not deter and defer, waste in the decision making process is eliminated. Matrix structures enable rather than create fiefdoms.

Those practising Servant Leadership will have a head start tackling these challenges.

3. Employee Engagement

*DISCLAIMER SCARY INSIGHTS* , Gallup report that less than 50% of us know what's expected of us at work, just 20% of us feel we use our Strengths more often than not and just 30% of workers in Northern Europe feel engaged at work. That's pants.

The sooner we realise that a good day for most folks is not catching the bosses eye and landing more work the better. Folks are having more bad than good days at work.

Focus on updating outdated ways of working that help to unleash folks creative potential, create a positive workplace and reinforce innovation, managed risk taking and rapid learning - you'll be amazed at the results. Managing yourself then leading others.

Servant Leadership is about creating a balance between a concern for results and relationships , organisations are starting realising this is the key to performance and looking for ways to step toward this. This final graphic I think distils the not inconsiderable ask neatly into a table - this is the ask of modern leaders, for once shifting right is the ask.

0?e=1551916800&v=beta&t=5zy5taNU2zfMgrpxFl747lR4MwsMFKVg7Loqjd8ekJsSo in summary I believe there are three environmental factors creating a huge pull for new ways of working, Servant Leadership makes sense, it's a tried and tested approach that should be the choice of those interested in a sustainable way of working.