The next time someone suggests to me that servant leadership is “soft,” you know what I’m going to do?
I’m going to punch that person right in the nose!
OK, I’m just kidding about that.
But I’m not kidding about this: Servant leadership ain’t soft.
Soft means lacking firmness or strength of character. That’s no way to describe servant-leaders, especially in the workplace.
Servant-leaders in the workplace play to win. They are fiercely driven to see their organizations achieve their missions. Firmness and strength of character are essential to a servant-leader’s success. Servant leaders make hard decisions – including hard people decisions – disappoint people and even make enemies.*
Servant-leaders want results and get them.**
Indeed, some of the most successful organizations in the most competitive situations practice servant leadership.
The leadership development program at the United States Air Force Academy is grounded in servant leadership. (It was influenced by the writings of Robert K. Greenleaf, the man who coined the term “servant leadership” in his 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader.) There is an expression in the United States Marine Corps that captures its servant leadership attitude: “Officers eat last.” The Navy SEALS practice servant leadership, too.
Does anyone think the leadership in those organizations is soft?
Furthermore, great businesses in very tough industries practice servant leadership.
In the fiercely competitive airline industry, Southwest Airlines practices servant leadership. TDIndustries does the same in the rough-and-tumble construction business. The Home Depot makes servant leadership work in a gritty retail sector.***
Moreover, I’ve been surprised lately to learn how many law enforcement agencies, firefighters and first responders take a servant leadership approach.
In my experience, some servant-leaders are outwardly gentle. Others are outwardly gruff.
But I try not to confuse form with substance. For, as I see it, regardless of their demeanors, great servant-leaders are anything but soft.
What do you think? Do agree that servant leadership ain’t soft? What am I missing here?
Let us know.
As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!
Don’t forget to download our latest ebook, Servant Leadership in the Workplace: A Brief Introduction. It’s free!
* See what you think: “Servant-Leaders Make Enemies.”
** Check out this post: “Servant-Leaders Play to Win.”