Servant Leadership Workplace-Gossip

Spread Good Gossip!

That’s leadership advice from Sam Candler, Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip here in Atlanta.

You look puzzled.

OK, I was puzzled, too, when I first heard Sam say it.

Let’s see if this explanation helps.

“Gossip” is intimate and informed information about another person. “To gossip” is the act of spreading that information. “A gossip” is someone who does the spreading.*

There are two kinds of gossip, bad gossip and good gossip.

Bad gossip is what we usually think of when we hear the word “gossip” alone. That’s “dirty laundry” and other stuff we would not want people saying about us.

But there’s good gossip, too – stuff it would be nice to hear people saying about us. Think of it as “clean laundry.”

Speaking of clean laundry, let me provide some examples of good gossip.

I worked for many years at CARE, the international NGO that fights extreme poverty. One of the great servant-leaders I knew on the CARE executive team (to honor his humility, we’ll just call him Jim) was constantly the subject of good gossip:

  • “Did you hear what Jim did when he first arrived at CARE? He cut his big office in half so it would be the same size as all the other offices.”
  • “Did you hear that Jim gave himself the lowest self-appraisal rating on the executive team this year? Yeah, he was unsatisfied by his own performance. But the CEO ended up giving him the highest rating of anyone!”
  • “Did you hear Jim washes his clothes in the sink when he travels overseas so CARE does not have to pay for his laundry?

And so on.

Clean laundry. You get the idea.

Sociologists and people who study organizational behavior recognize that gossip plays an influential role in organizational life. Among other things, gossip strengthens social norms, reinforces desired behaviors and punishes undesired behaviors.

By spreading good gossip, we identify the leadership behaviors we want in our workplace culture and help to socialize them.

So, take Sam Candler’s advice: Spread good gossip!

When you hear something good about a servant-leader, dish it. When you experience some good servant leadership behavior, spread the word around.

What do you think? Do you have any experience with good gossip? What would you add?

Let us know.

As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!

And download our latest ebook, Servant Leadership in the Workplace: A Brief Introduction. It’s free!


* The word “gossip” originated as a noun in Old English from two words: (1) ”god” – as used in “godmother or “godfather” – people brought into the extended family as a result of a baptism ceremony; and (2) “sibb” – the root of the word “sibling.” So, if you were a “gossip” – a “godsibb” – in Old England, it meant you were very close with another person; you were a “godsister” or “godbrother” to that person, as it were.