We know that, in the words of Robert K. Greenleaf, servant leadership “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”
But can the desire to serve get out of control?
And I would argue that when the desire to serve gets out of control, instead of being a servant-leader, that person is a doormat.
Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant describes “the doormat effect” in his marvelous book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.* One becomes a doormat when one’s selflessness becomes self-destructive.
In the workplace, the negative consequences of being a doormat include:
- Lack of accomplishment – You spend so much effort serving others that you neglect your own duties and don’t get your own work done.
- Striking bad deals – You sacrifice too much in business dealings and people regularly take advantage of you, especially in negotiations.
- Burnout – Your service consumes so much of your time and energy that you become physically and emotionally exhausted, rendering you ineffective.
OK, but why would I argue that a doormat is not a servant-leader?
Because no one follows a doormat – or at least not for long.
And no one is a servant-leader without followers.
So, in serving, as in giving, the key is to be prudent.
“Selfless giving, in the absence of self-preservation instincts, easily becomes overwhelming,” Grant says. He makes a compelling case that the best path to success is not to be selfless, but rather, to be otherish. “Being otherish means being willing to give more than you receive, but still keeping your own interests in sight, using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how and to whom to give.”
I believe the most effective servant-leader has a high concern for others while, at the same time, paying appropriate attention to self-interest – that’s another way Grant describes being otherish.
And so I believe that when it comes to servant leadership, doormats need not apply.
Do you agree?
As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks.
*Click here for Give and Take on Amazon – a hugely important book for servant leadership.