Servant Leadership: It’s Time for a New Leadership Model


Too many leaders have been conditioned to think of leadership only in terms of power and control. But there is a better way to lead, says best-selling business author Ken Blanchard—one that combines equal parts serving and leading. This kind of leadership requires a special kind of leader: a servant leader.

“In this model,” says Blanchard, “Leaders assume a traditional role to set the vision, direction, and strategy for the organization—the leadership aspect of servant leadership. After the vision and direction are set, the leaders turn the organizational pyramid upside down so that they serve the middle managers and frontline people who serve the customer. Now the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for the task of implementation—the servant aspect of servant leadership.”

Many organizations and leaders get into trouble during implementation, warns Blanchard.

“When command-and-control leaders are at the helm, the traditional hierarchical pyramid is kept alive and well. All of the organization’s energy moves up the hierarchy, away from customers and frontline folks who are closest to the action. When there is a conflict between what customers want and what the boss wants, the boss wins.”

Blanchard suggests that leadership, learning, and talent development professionals correct this situation by philosophically turning the traditional hierarchical pyramid upside down—putting customer contact people at the top of the organization and top management at the bottom.

“This philosophical mind-shift reminds everyone in the organization that when it comes to implementation, leaders serve their people, who serve the customers. This change may seem minor, but it makes a major difference between who is responsible and who is responsive.”

The next step, according to Blanchard, is to align policies, practices, direction, and support to remove barriers for the people who are taking care of customers. This high-investment approach to talent management is designed to bring out the best in everyone.

“Servant leaders are constantly trying to find out what their people need to perform well and live according to their organization’s vision. In top organizations, leaders believe if they do a good job serving their people and showing them they care, the employees will, in turn, practice that same philosophy with customers.”

The Biggest Barrier to Servant Leadership

In looking back at all of the organizations he has worked with over the years, one of the most persistent barriers to more people becoming successful servant leaders is a heart motivated by self-interest, says Blanchard.

“As a leader, you must ask yourself why you lead. Is it to serve or to be served? Answering this question in a truthful way is so important. You can’t fake being a servant leader. I believe if leaders don’t get the heart part right, they simply won’t ever become servant leaders.

“Managers who somehow have themselves as the center of the universe and think everything must rotate around them are really covering up not-okay feelings about themselves. This is an ego problem that manifests as fear or false pride. When you don’t feel good about yourself, you have two options. You can hide and hope nobody notices you, or you can overcompensate and go out and try to control your environment. I always say that people who feel the need to control their environment are really just scared little kids inside.”

“I learned from the late Norman Vincent Peale that the best leaders combine a healthy self-acceptance with humility.  As I learned from Norman, “Leaders with humility don’t think less of themselves—they just think about themselves less.”

An Old Model for a New World of Work?

Blanchard explains that leaders with a servant heart thrive on developing people and helping them achieve their goals. They constantly try to find out what their people need to perform well. Being a servant leader is not just another management technique. It is a way of life for those with servant hearts.

“When I first began to teach managers back in the late 1960s I met Robert Greenleaf, who was just retiring as a top AT&T executive. Bob talked about servant leadership—the concept that effective leaders and managers need to serve their people, not be served by them. It was entirely new thinking then. In many ways, Bob is considered the father of the term servant leadership.”

It is much easier for people to see the importance and relevance of servant leadership today than it was back then, says Blanchard.

“Today when people see you as a judge and critic, they spend most of their time trying to please you rather than accomplishing the organization’s goals and moving in the direction of the desired vision. ‘Boss watching’ becomes a popular sport and people get promoted on their upward-influencing skills. That role doesn’t do much for accomplishing a clear vision. People try to protect themselves rather than move the organization in its desired direction.

“Servant leaders are constantly trying to find out what their people need to be successful. Rather than wanting their people to please them, they want to make a difference in the lives of their people—and, in the process, impact the organization.”

Servant Leadership: The Power of Love, Not the Love of Power

A few years ago, Blanchard received a letter from a man in New Zealand with a line that he believes sums up his leadership philosophy.

“The man wrote that he felt I was in the business of teaching people the power of love rather than the love of power.

“I believe the world is in desperate need of a different leadership role model. We need servant leadership advocates. Spread the word to everyone who will listen! And remember: your job is to teach people the power of love rather than the love of power.”

Would you like to learn more about creating a servant leadership culture and leading at a higher level?  Join us for a free webinar with Ken Blanchard!

Servant Leadership: 4 Keys to Leading at a Higher Level

In this special event for leadership, learning, and talent development professionals, best-selling business author Ken Blanchard looks at servant leadership and how to create an others-focused culture in your organization.  You’ll learn how to:

  • Set your sights on the right target and vision. Great organizations focus on three bottom lines instead of just one. In addition to financial success, Ken will share how leaders at great organizations measure the satisfaction and engagement levels of their employees as well as their customers.
  • Treat your customers right. To keep your customers today, you can’t be content to just satisfy them. Ken will share how to create raving fans—customers who are so excited about the way you treat them that they want to tell others.
  • Treat your people right. You can’t treat your people poorly and expect them to treat your customers well. Ken will share how treating your people right includes setting clear, meaningful goals, providing day-to-day coaching, and finally, setting up performance reviews so that there are no surprises.
  • Develop the right kind of leaders. The most effective leaders recognize that leadership is not about them and that they are only as good as the people they lead. Ken will share how servant leadership principles can guide the design of your leadership development curriculum.

Ready to take your organization to the next level?  Don’t miss this opportunity to explore how to create an others-focused culture and leadership development strategy based on the principles of servant leadership. The event is free courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

View On-Demand


About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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