While the need and the demand for servant leaders seems to be on the rise, there is a disturbing trend in which servant leaders are treated as little more than bond slaves of the people they lead. In these instances followers subject their leaders to humiliating demands and then withdraw all support for the leader, but still expect the servant leader to go out of their way to accomplish the followers’ wishes at their own cost. Leaders who do not meet the mark of servant delivery, as judged by the followers, are deemed to be failures and are subject to unqualified disdain from those who have a skewed understanding of the leadership function.
The call for servant leaders is couched with innocent phrases like “we need someone who will work for us” or “save us from this aggression” or “we need someone who can help us meet our goals”. Reading these sentiments carefully will reveal a very self driven motive devoid of any collaborative agenda. In reality these followers are looking for a way to absolve themselves of all responsibility for their own success. Woe to the leader who takes up leadership to serve the peoples interests in these circumstances. Upon entering office the gentle wishes of the people suddenly turn into demands, expectations and morph into non-negotiable performance indicators. If the leader fails to secure the success of the population he or she is disqualified as a servant leader.
A careful reading of Greenleaf would characterize a servant leaders as; Listening. Empathy. Healing, Awareness., Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people and Building community. These characteristics no doubt demand and draw on the submissive qualities and the other-centered traits in a leader. However these characteristics neglect to define the role of followers in achieving social and corporate goals. This model and attributes the accomplishment of corporate goals solely to the person of the servant leader and release the followers of any wrong or culpability of failure to achieve corporate objectives. This definition of a leader fails to acknowledge that leadership is in fact a social construct and a corporate social responsibility where followers proactively participate in the leadership process and commit resources to achieve a common goal.
The more mischievous and less knowledgeable followers are inclined to believe they have no responsibility for their own success and easily abandon their leaders to pursue noble corporate goals without lifting a finger, paying their dues or pulling their weight to achieve the desired results. It is the disloyal and unfaithful following that withholds their vote and turns their leaders into personal slaves. They blame the leader passionately for failing to succeed on their behalf and denounce the leaders’ efforts to facilitate the common good. The principles of Servant leadership are inspiring, but there is a defining line between service and slavery.