Leadership Decision Test: Serving or Controlling?

Businessman With Chains on WristsYou know that feeling: you just don’t feel right about a decision. Here’s a simple leadership test to validate the decision: does it seek to serve or control your stakeholders?

Naturally, you’d never seek to control control your customer, investor or employees, you say. But wait, there are nuances to these differences that may surprise you.


A decision may seek to control your stakeholders if it brings about a result that makes you or your team look good, with little or no benefit to stakeholders. Another control indicator is when you make decisions that drive short-term results at long-term costs. A decision may also be controlling when all costs are not transparent to stakeholders.


To determine if your decision serves your stakeholders, just give it the Robert K. Greenleaf test:

Do those being served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived? – Robert K. Greenleaf

So the next time you have an important decision, ask yourself, does the solution seek to control or serve the stakeholders? The answer will help you decide but it also may surprise you.


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

6 thoughts on “Leadership Decision Test: Serving or Controlling?”

  1. David McCuistion

    My focus in the decision making process is to show that the decision is in their own best interest. This requires a mentoring approach with servant leadership instruction and communication. I take a collaborative approach, not because I’m afraid of making a decision, but to seek input, create buy-in and confidence in the decision, get the pros and cons of the ideal I am fostering. After all, leadership is not about control, it is about meeting the needs of everyone in the organization as we all work toward the vision as guided by the mission of the company.

  2. Definitely a thought-provoking post.

    One thing that comes to mind for me were yearly team building events our information services department would have. Our group was geographically dispersed and to come together in a central location for 1.5 days was costly. We would meet during the day, develop technology strategies for the firm and then that evening have a department party with food, drinks, and general good time. From the outside, one could possibly see this as control because it was about the team and not the stakeholders, however, to see the benefits come out of the team building event which touched stakeholders over the course of the year was definitely serving.

  3. A very interesting post. A simple tool to aid this decision making is to draft a needs/interventions grid – list all the options on one axis, and all the groups affected on the other, then add a tick or cross depending on whetehr the option meets or doesn’t meet the needs of that group. If it doesnt meet the needs of the key stakeholders, then it is probably a controlloing decision.

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