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Heroism or Service? Let a Servant Leadership Style Prevail

You might have read the post I wrote earlier about “go fever” and the immense pressure to succeed that leaders often experience. Sometimes the expectations are so great that we’re tempted to simply resort to ego-based behavior or hero leadership. But if we can avoid falling into this trap and, instead, focus on servant leadership, our outcomes are far more sustainable and rewarding for those involved. One of my readers asked if we could explore the differences between these two styles of leadership. Great question!

People who apply hero leadership on the job see themselves as the primary player in problem-solving. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they’ve nurtured their staff’s dependency on them for most of what happens in the office, draining the team of efficiency because everyone must consult the boss. Think about what happens when four lanes of traffic merge into one. The same applies to your organization’s workload having to funnel through one person. Hero leaders also have difficulty delegating and focusing on the tasks that take them away from the day-to-day operations, but are essential to good leadership, like visioning and strategic thinking.

A focus on servant leadership makes our outcomes far more sustainable and rewarding.

Servant leaders, on the other hand, empower teams to think collaboratively on their own and to bring solutions to the table. The focus is on the team rather than the leader. By consistently looking at how they give their people the tools and autonomy to succeed, servant leaders have multiplied the brainpower of their organization.

Revisit the metaphor I mentioned above and consider expanding one lane of traffic to four and allowing for off-ramps and scenic stops along the way. Servant leadership models this type of traffic flow, enabling freedom of movement and decision-making. Leaders who serve also prefer to put the spotlight on their people rather than seeking out recognition for themselves. By doing so, they send the message that their people are valued.

If on occasion, you find yourself exhibiting hero leadership behavior, try to understand why and consult trusted colleagues for feedback. Look for ways you can move toward the opposite end of the spectrum where servant leadership lies. If you’re successful, you’ll sustain greater productivity and develop future leaders along the way.

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  1. Len McCreary

    A few weeks ago at an Air Force base, we did live demos of a crazy technology we developed in less than 12mo. It blew everyone’s mind, including mine. I later told my team, it was a milestone success, because I never touched the prototype. …and I recognized that if I had touched it, it wouldn’t have performed so well. …maybe not at all.

    I constantly encourage people to focus on making their highest level of contribution. Forget about all the things you’re not good at. What are you good at? What do you love? Do more of that, and let’s get the rest off your plate! Often easier said than done, this successful prototype was a tangible example that will stick with me.

    Reply to Len McCreary

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