Musings on Servant Based Leadership

James Haskett wrote a piece for Forbes recently asking the question “why isn’t Servant Based Leadership more prevalent?” Servant Based Leadership gathered a reasonable following over the years with its philosophical underpinnings. I am actually a big fan of the idea because it switches the focus from the leader to the follower. From a follower’s perspective, you want your needs to be satisfied, which is what servants do. When this happens, you are much more likely to follow the person who is doing that for you. Many times leaders are seen as the person in control. People don’t like to be over controlled and having a servant mentality re-positions that relationship.

At the same time, being a servant is an awkward role for a leader to take on personally. I am the boss, how did I get lowered to a subservient position? What about my needs? I am not saying this is good or bad, it is just how a lot of people think.

In my book, Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader, I use a different approach to get at the underlying principles behind Servant Based Leadership. People do follow you when you satisfy their needs, just as customers buy from you when you satisfy their needs. What do we do for customers? We develop a strong value proposition. Thus, to get your employees to follow you, there needs to be a value proposition directed at their specific needs.

There also needs to be a value proposition for the boss or leader. When these value propositions are constructed for both, a lot of clarity develops on the actions for the leader and followers. It is an adult to adult relationship. Both sides develop mutual respect. No one is a servant to the other. The leader’s main objective is fulfilling the value proposition committed to his “followers.” Thus, in action it plays out very similar to Servant Based Leadership. But at the same time, the leader knows that his/her value proposition is being pursued by the followers. This gives vitality to a healthy relationship.

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