Is Servant Leadership Soft Leadership? 

Some think servant leadership is soft leadership. Some imagine a weak leader at the beck and call of her employees, yielding to their whims, not holding them accountable, not getting results—a doormat for them to walk over. Others believe servant leaders have a parent/child relationship with their employees, which fosters dependency on the leader rather than independence. Others see servant leadership as a laissez-faire, participatory leadership style ill-suited for today’s fast-paced business environment.

Today, I unequivocally declare: true servant leadership is NOT soft leadership. Servant leadership is STRONG leadership!

Effective servant leaders do the same things other leaders do. They hire and fire employees, direct, delegate, empower, set deadlines, inspire, measure results, hold people accountable, establish vision, coach, discipline, encourage, praise, etc. The difference is why they do it.

Servant Leaders Care 

Servant leaders do what they do because they care about those they lead. When we truly care about someone—when we love them—we only want what is best for them. When we want what is best for someone, we are willing to have difficult conversations with them. That is strong leadership.

Though a servant leader is not a parental figure to an employee, a loving parent is a good example of a strong servant leader. Good parents love their children. The love of a caring parent is near to infinite. Though parents love their children, they sometimes make them cry. Why? Because they want to protect them, teach them, and prevent them from making the same mistakes they made. And they want them to be successful—even more successful than they were. That’s servant leadership!

Servant Leaders Have Hard Conversations 

Yes, servant leaders praise, encourage, lift, and serve those they lead; but true servant leaders also have hard, painful conversations with them because they want them to succeed. 

Servant leaders also fire employees. Some believe that servant leaders keep under-performing employees for as long as it takes to coach the employee into the perfect employee; that coaching up is the only solution and coaching out is not an option. Not so! True servant leaders fire employees just as self-serving leaders do. Again, the difference is the motive. Servant leaders fire employees because they know the employees won’t succeed where they are and could be more successful elsewhere. They fire them because they care about them.

Servant leadership is strong leadership. It is simply caring enough to have the hard conversations in the right way, at the right time, for the right reason.

Serve on!

Learn More! To learn more about Servant Leadership, get Ken Blanchard’s new book, Servant Leadership in Action. It is a collection of essays of over 40 thought leaders on the power of servant leadership.

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