Imitation is the most prominent form of flattery.
Many executives and managers have taken note of a leadership style called servant leadership that attracts followers, improves engagement, and enhances results. In an attempt to change their perception and behavior, they have adopted a vanilla and fake version of servant leadership that sometimes passes for the real thing.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, servant leadership is a timeless concept coined by Robert K. Greenleaf. The primary goal of a servant leader is to empower and coach others to maximize their potential. In other words, instead of leading from a position of power and authority, they will the good of another by putting others’ needs ahead of their own.
The root of being a good leader is understanding that you work for your people, not the other way around.
You constantly strive to elevate others through your actions, not just words. For example, in Building the Best, I defined a leader as “someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to elevate others over an extended period of time.”
If this sounds like a great way to lead, it’s because it is. It’s precisely how people prefer to be led.
The Rise of the Fake Servant Leader
In the last few years, coaching and developing leaders, a shift has begun. Many destructive, toxic, and or narcissistic people in leadership positions are intelligent, savvy, and have phenomenal manipulation skills. That’s not all; many are fun, believable, and have the gift of gab. So instead of demonstrating the overt signs of toxic leadership by forcing and mandating the behavior they desire, they have chosen to be a fake servant leader.
There is a good chance you either work with, for, or alongside a fake servant leader. On the outside, it appears they care deeply about the people that work for them and desire the growth and development of others. However, in reality, they care about their interest first and foremost and give from their excess.
Fake servant leaders care about their interests first and foremost and give from their excess.
Before you judge whether someone is an authentic servant leader vs. a fake servant leader, know that leadership is a journey and not a destination. Many managers and executives are genuinely trying to change how they lead, and they deserve some grace. Leadership is a difficult to acquire and master because change takes time. To take it a step further, leaders must be created from the inside. A change of both heart and mind are required. Said differently, you can’t go from manager to leader without a shift from within.
To go from manager to leader requires a shift from within
Some of the attributes demonstrated by leaders that have transformed their hearts and minds include:
- Humility – Great leaders understand the path to effective leadership is paved with humility, not pride. Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.
- Curiosity – High-performing leaders grasp that they’re never done learning. They have an insatiable curiosity to learn and then apply.
- Empathy – The best leaders know empathy isn’t a weakness; it’s a strength. Empathy is a critical leadership skill because people want to be understood, especially by their boss.
Experiencing servant leadership attributes like this is excellent. However, even fake servant leaders can demonstrate these qualities when times are good. The actual test is when times are challenging. When outcomes aren’t good is precisely when the true colors come out.
Suppose you are looking for ways to be an authentic servant leader. Here are five elements to consider.
Care – Building strong bonds of mutual trust is essential to leadership. Lean into developing authentic relationships to be able to lead effectively.
Coach – Improving the current and future performance of others to achieve higher levels of excellence is challenging, but it’s required. Be willing and able to coach others when and where it’s necessary.
Empower – Providing others with the freedom to make decisions, take risks, and learn is essential to servant leadership. No one likes to be micromanaged, and if you coach others well they will be equipped with the confidence and skills to make great decisions.
Accountable – Having clear standards of effort and performance. Then possess the willingness and skills to confront them head-on through dialogue.
Encourage – Inspiring others with courage and hope, so they create a better future. All belief is transferred, that source might as well be you.
The truth always finds a way out. While this wave of fake servant leaders may last, it’s more likely that the truth will emerge when the going gets tough.
A Leadership Guide to Time Management Struggle with Time Management as a leader? Download the free guide here.
Take the Free Leadership Style Quiz Join over 75k leaders and discover your current leadership style for free.
About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.