Why We Should Always Call it SERVANT-Leadership™

SERVANT Leadership AcronymThe great Shakespeare play, Romeo & Juliet has a famous line, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” We often use this phrase to explain how names don’t really matter. I often hear the same excuse when organizations choose to call their leadership philosophy something different. They assure me, “it’s really SERVANT-Leadership™, only with a different name”. When I hear that, I always vomit a little in my mouth.

Most of these cases are a desire to claim the benefit of servant-leadership, without the cost. The reality is they end up with neither. There are 2 reasons why these attempts usually fail:

1. Fear of Confrontation

Many organizations fear facing individuals who lack an understanding of what servant-leadership really is. Those who misunderstand it think the concept is weak management. I explain why that’s wrong in this post. If an organization fears detractors who misunderstand the meaning of servant-leadership, how can they possibly commit to practicing the principles it represents?

2. Self-interest

Another reason organizations prefer a different name is out of self-interest. These originate from consultants or companies who put their own name on the concept in order to sell more books, services, or speaking engagements. When their customers commit to the “branded” versions of servant-leadership, they commit to the provider and their interpretation of the concepts. The result limits the scope and possibilities of their people.

Is it possible to practice similar principles without calling it servant-leadership? Of course. Do I support organizations who excel at practicing servant-leadership, despite their preference of using a different name? Yes. The issue is not whether or not it is possible. The issue is whether an organization is really committed to the concept or simply want the benefit without the cost. Resistance to the term, servant-leadership is a strong indicator they’re not really serious about the principles.

Do you use the term, servant-leadership in your organization? If so, why?


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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

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