Many folks think of leadership as the ability to take people from one place to another – a higher level of effectiveness working together, a new level of performance, or some other version of the “promised land.”
The focus, when we think of leadership that way, is on the leader’s vision of the future. His or her task, therefore, is to enroll or enlist us – get our enthusiastic support – of that vision. Once we get on board, we will “follow the leader” from here to there.
Examined from that point of view, leadership seems to be a series of actions that the leader does to us in support of that vision.
The leader’s job is to create a compelling vision, clearly communicate that vision, keep us on track, intervene if we stray off course, and reward us for any appropriate steps we take along the way.
But another view of leadership sees the leader as someone who acts in service to others.
Here, the leader is a series of actions that the leader does for us.
Picture the typical organization chart and you’ll probably see a pyramid, with a leader on top and the rest of us underneath, looking up. Now take that pyramid and turn it upside down, and you’ll have an image of the service-oriented leader who sees him/herself as someone whose responsibility is to serve the rest of us.
Does a servant leader still have a vision? Of course. Do they still want to take us from “here” to “there”? Certainly.
They just approach the task differently.
The more traditional leader starts out in front of us, and stays there – creating the picture of the promised land, scanning for obstacles that could keep us from getting there, and slaying dragons along the way.
While the servant leader also starts out in front, he or she then steps aside, believing that the full measure of achieving the vision will be far greater than he or she could imagine.
The first leader focuses on developing our skills, the second focuses on releasing our potential.
At the risk of one too many metaphors, all roads lead to Rome. Differing leadership models aren’t a case of one being better than the other; find what works for you and go for it!