Steward-Servant Dynamic Theory
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Published: Wed, 13 Sep 2017
Alexander the Great is one of the most renowned figures of all time; written into history as one of the most brilliant military strategists of all time and one of the world’s most powerful leaders making it unlikely he will be forgotten anytime soon. It is no puzzle to figure out why he would have received the first title, having expanded his kingdom of Macedonia from the Mediterranean to the border of India, but the second title is more ambiguous. What does it mean to be a great leader? The world has known hundreds upon thousands of leaders in its time yet few of them are remembered and even fewer are acknowledged as having been ‘great leaders’. Alexander the Great was able to accomplish such tremendous military victories because he was out there fighting alongside his men, literally taking part in the wars which he was waging. This is critical to understand; anybody can sit on a throne and mandate others to do this and that for them, but in order to be respected you must be willing to do the very same things that you expect others to do for you. Servant leadership embraces this way of humankind and can offer an entirely new means of stimulating employee productivity and corporate success.
The concept of a servant leader has existed throughout history, with prominent men such as Alexander the Great and Joseph II of Prussia embracing and practicing it. However, the phenomenon was not coined until 1970 in an essay by Robert K. Greenleaf. In his essay Greenleaf established the framework of what servant leadership comprised of. A servant leader is someone who is in a position of power and yet is not concerned primarily with wealth and power and is instead focusing on serving the people below himself first. Greenleaf conceptualizes it clearly, it is the philosophy that by putting the needs of others above your own needs you will achieve optimal levels of production out of those you are heading (Mazze). Servant leadership is a call to undermine the traditional outlook on leadership as being an institution of “command-and-control”, where there is one person elevated to a higher status overseeing men and women who are considered inferior in a work sense and telling them how and when things should be done (TEROSKY). Generally this is done in a detached and unconcerned manner, unaware of the employees state of being and frankly not concerned with learning it which is because of the perpetuated idea that respect is given only when the authority figure is seen as being a superior being, immune to human characteristics and thus not on the same level as those who he is in control of. Advocates of a shift towards servant leadership claim that through enhancing and building connections and relationships between those who are leading and those who follow a whole new capacity of human achievement might be opened and profited from. But how exactly does one come to embody a servant leader? In Greenleaf’s 2010 essay “Character and servant Leadership”, he pinpoints the ten characteristics which qualify a person as being a servant leader and they are as follows; listening, empathy, healing, self-awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people and the building of community (Mazze). This form of leadership is almost oxymoronical because it’s biggest emphasis is on distancing yourself from the designation of “leader” and focusing on being a coequal instead. They are supposed to listen to the grievances of their employees, even on non work related issues in order to form a deep and intimate bond. They should be relating to them and thus using this deeper understanding of each other in order to work in a mutually beneficial manner, working hand in hand to achieve set goals and grow personally and professionally. This all sounds wonderful but how realistic is it, and how plausible is it to think that it will be adapted and received well in the workplace?
The Steward-Servant Dynamic has only existed in name for a few decades and yet has produced tremendous proof of its validity. A systematic review of servant leadership in organization was published in 2013 and produced a cohesive outlook on the implementation and effectiveness of servant leadership. The review consisted of 44 appropriate studies, including 11 qualitative studies, 27 quantitative studies, and one mixed method study, all of which used an empirical assessment method in order to draw their conclusions. The result of this SLR was strong evidence of the value of servant leadership. By averaging the results from all 44 studies it was determined that there was strong evidence in favor of every single one of servant leadership’s alleged benefits; including things like Team level effectiveness, increasing employee job satisfaction, and creating a positive work climate (Parris). A separate study was conducted in an effort to determine whether the serving culture perpetuated in the Steward-Servant Dynamic was actually effective in increasing employee performance, creativity and customer services behavior while diminishing job turnover and general job dissatisfaction. They took a sample of 961 employees working in 71 restaurants of a moderately sized restaurant chain. The sample of employees was restricted to those who worked at least 20 hours a week and had been employed for at least 1 month. Using an AIC test the researchers found that the hypothesized model with direct paths from serving culture was 12,425.23 while the model without direct paths from the serving culture was 13,545.93. In this test a smaller number indicates superiority and thus the hypothesized model would be considered superior and therefore would support the statement that servant leadership is beneficial to work and employee productivity (LIDEN). The unorthodox nature of servant leadership makes it very hard for the corporate world to take a liking to it and therefore; to date, the majority of research in servant leadership is for the purpose of either conceptually defining and modeling the theory or develop measurement tools to empirical test it. As a result of this there are very few sources of direct data on the phenomenon, however these two are considerably vast considering the circumstances and do give relatively impressive results as to the impact of this method.
Adam Grant, a researcher from the Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania, has looked extensively into the intricacies of servant leadership and he has found that those who utilize servant leadership are looked upon more positively by their employees and gain more insight about the organization they run by putting others ahead of themselves. He believes that this leads to an overall more effective and seamless job environment, and urges executive leaders in twenty-first century America to give the dynamic a chance, despite the untraditional ways it works (Mezze). Greenleaf himself knew that this would be a very radical form of leadership, especially being as it wasn’t so much a methodology for leading but rather a philosophy in itself, a way of leading your life; not just your work responsibilities. To be a truly effective servant leader you would need to embody all of its characteristics, not just superficially but truly and earnestly so that you can reap all of its benefits by genuinely get the respect of your employees. Greenleaf nor any others who have researched and spearheaded this philosophy have ever claimed it would be easy, it is after all asking for a shift in the mental schema of corporate America which has been essentially set in stone since the Industrial revolution, but they do believe it will have been worth it. The success of all economic, political, and organizational systems depends on the effective and efficient guidance of the leaders of these systems and more and more today we are seeing a divide amongst those who hold a higher office and those who work beneath them. Changing times and mentalities, especially amongst millennials, will most likely prove to be detrimental to productivity if we insist on blindly continuing our pre existing leadership methods. This is why it essential that we break free of our restrictive mentalities of how things should be done and opt rather to embrace methods that no matter how controversial and unconventional show extreme promise for being valid methods of invigorating productivity and satisfaction within the workplace.
Mazzei, Michael. “Servant Leadership.” Salem Press Encyclopedia (2016): Research Starters. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
TEROSKY, AIMEE LAPOINTE1, [email protected], and MARIA C.2 REITANO. “Putting Followers First.” Journal Of School Leadership 26.2 (2016): 192-222.Education Source. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
Parris, Denise, and Jon Peachey. “A Systematic Literature Review Of Servant Leadership Theory In Organizational Contexts.” Journal Of Business Ethics 113.3 (2013): 377-393. Business Source Complete. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
LIDEN, ROBERT C., et al. “Servant Leadership And Serving Culture: Influence On Individual And Unit Performance.” Academy Of Management Journal 57.5 (2014): 1434-1452. Business Source Alumni Edition. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
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