Servant Leadership


Over the summer, myself and a couple of people in my team worked on developing a bunch of Servant Leadership learning materials. I wrote a bit about it here and here. We have been actively promoting Servant leadership internally for a few months now and it seems that it resonates really well with people and the feedback from all the session we have run (about 20 sessions in total in UK, Germany, India and US) was very positive. Here’s the challenge though - I have repeatedly observed that even managers/leaders who are the exact opposite of a Servant Leader tend to happily clap and nod when we talk about SL and once they leave the room they go back to their old ways. Some of them are open to 1-2-1 coaching, but many aren’t.

What strategies do you use to help leaders on all levels to change the way they lead (and think)? How do you do it at scale (10,000 plus employees)?



I am curious on this as well. What I do know is that with any training, the only way to get real gains is the post-training support and coaching. Think about any agile, technical or even academic training. Once you leave the focused session, the real work begins. You need to create patterns and systems that support the new outcome the training is trying to present. Often, we think of training as a toggle to instantly convert decades of mental models. In my experience that’s never been true.

I think there needs to be a shared vision of better servant leadership created. And regular inspection points to see if we are heading that way. And adapting if not. Thoughts @MilanJuza?


I agree, but I do think that leadership is not the same thing as a technical training or a specific practice or ceremony. It is deeper than that. It is more difficult to know when you are ‘doing it right’ and leaders often think that changing their style is some kind of weakness and so they subconsciously resist the change. I think that a regular and honest feedback from the team (or someone they trust/rate) is one of the best ways to gradually change someone’s leadership. That, however, assumes that the leader in question is open to receiving feedback like that :slight_smile:


Some of it is environment. When you have a hero culture it is dog eat dog and you might as well be Charlie Browns parents when talking about Servant leadership.

Becoming a servant leader was not easy for me at first , but one day I had a moment when it clicked much like when the Grinchs heart grew three sizes and he made Christmas for the Whoos happen.

Training and feedback loops are esential to build muscle memory. Where is a Servent leader kata when you need one?

Glad to see you posting up @MilanJuza


Great question. Thanks for posting it. I think the old adage of “in order to change first you must want to change” is pretty true here. If incentives (intrinsic or extrinsic) exist within an organisation to nurture such behaviour then you have a fighting chance. Of however the prevailing culture is one of command and control and such behaviour is rewarded I think the battle of lost before even beginning.

A couple of books are helpful on this topic.

The Art and Science of Changing People Who Don’t Want to Change: Giving Teams Access to Their Full Potential


The Dance of Change: The Challenges of Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations (A Fifth Discipline Resource)


We’re up against a century and a half of Taylorist management history. No training session on the world is powerful enough to turn that around. And when the archetypal command and control star of the apprentice has just got the keys to the white house I think we have our work cut out. This is depressing but there’s one thing you can do. Be a servant leader yourself and demonstrate by example how it’s more effective.


Hi @Smrimell, thanks for your thoughts. Yes, I agree that leading by example is one of the key approaches that helps in this effort. But the impact of it is, by design, limited to the people you interact with at least in some way which means in large organisation your reach is limited. But I agree it is the right thing to do and with some degree of good internal ‘PR’ around it it can have a decent halo effect to other parts of the organisation.


One more thing, I’ve run an exercise a few times with leadership teams based on Patrick Lencioni’s work in his book “The Advantage”. One aspect involves an exercise to highlight the values that exist in an organisation. These values are categorised into “Core”, “Aspirational”, “Accidental” and “Permission to Play”. The exercise can be very useful in surfacing the values that the organisation wishes to nurture and those that they wish to disincentivise. It can be a very good starting point to understand whether servant leadership is even something that an org has the stomach for.


At the leadership level, folks are accustomed to “mastermind” type support and interaction. In a Tayloristic enterprise it is unlikey that will come to exist, as showing any sort of vulnerability (I need to change my ways) will be threatening. I think of a wolf pack and alphas. I’m wondering if there’s a way to have cross organizational mastermind groups post workshop, to begin to build on the session, to explore the new ideas and skills folks were exposed to.

And then when folks see incremental or exponential results in their own organization, there’s a chance to expand the circle of safety with in the organization.

Anyway, early morning rambling thoughts. Hope they are coherent.


Yes, I agree @andycleff. The circle of safety is a key enabler I think. If one is able to isolate leaders who can form a circle like that and within that circle to have an open and honest conversation about leadership and keep each other honest about what good looks like then you know you are on the right track.