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Summary of Servant Leadership and Followership

Since ancient times, the study of leadership has focused on how to make others do what you want them to do in order to achieve your own goals. That perspective is still with us. However, recent scholarship suggests that great leaders do not simply lead large numbers of people or reach difficult goals. Rather, great leaders find ways to develop leadership qualities in their followers—those below them.

Servant Leadership, offered by Robert K. Greenleaf, and Followership, offered by Robert E. Kelley are theories that have become popular in business circles. Both have clearly borrowed from Jesus Christ, as presented in the New Testament, with a number of significant differences. In short, both theories suggest that the leader should develop those below them. This goal might be desirable in that it empowers followers, thus aiding the organization in reaching its goals. Unfortunately, a major flaw in both theories is that neither account for cultural differences. The two theorists both assume that their exported theory would increase the effectiveness of any organization, regardless of its location in the world or of the culture of those in the organization.

It is true that all leaders need followers, but the nature of good followership may actually be a fuzzy set. Similarly, most people appreciate a leader who wishes to serve. But a leader who wishes to serve first may find a much thinner base of followers and a much larger base of rivals. And the nature of service may be conceived differently in different cultures. Hence, both followership and servant leadership need a theory of culture and a mechanism for adjusting to the needs of culture.

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Copyright © David Rath. All rights reserved.
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