Servant Leadership Workplace-Neglect

Servant Leadership and the “Art of Systematic Neglect”

What did you do over the Labor Day holiday long weekend?

I trust someone might ask you that, at least in the US.

Me? I made time for some systematic neglect.

That is, I took some time away from my professional and domestic duties to reflect on my year so far and my priorities for the future.

In his classic 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader, Robert K. Greenleaf identifies two extreme types of leaders: those who thrive leading under pressure and those who endure pressure in order to lead. “For both the art of withdrawal is useful. To the former it is a change of pace; to the latter it is a defense against an unpleasant state.”

Greenleaf continues:

The ability to withdraw and reorient oneself, if only for a moment, presumes that one has learned the art of systematic neglect, to sort out the more important from the less important — and the important from the urgent — and attend to the more important, even though there may be penalties and censure for the neglect of something else.

That’s a great phrase, “the art of systematic neglect” — selectively choosing to neglect the endless and urgent interruptions of the digital world to reconnect with what’s really critical. Doing so is among the distinctive servant leadership practices. Greenleaf concludes:

Pacing oneself by appropriate withdrawal is one of the best approaches to making optimal use of one’s resources. The servant-as-leader must constantly ask, how can I use myself to serve best?

We hope you had a chance to practice some systematic neglect this weekend.

And we would appreciate hearing ways you find to withdraw and reorient yourself during the course of each week. Let us know.

OK, it’s time to wrap up this blog and get back to some “appropriate withdrawal” before the holiday long weekend is over.