Saturday, October 13, 2007

Servant Leadership, by Robert K. Greenleaf

Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, by Robert K. Greenleaf

This book was written thirty years ago, but is still very relevant today. Not just in its message that true leadership is an inner quality as much as an exercise in power, but in the world that prompted the author to put pen to paper. “We are prone to adventurous and illegal wars. Confidence in the integrity of elected officials is at a low point. The total tax structure is a perversion. The treatment of prisoners is barbaric. The cost of it all is staggering.” Sound familiar?

Servant leadership embraces the idea that leaders should serve others by removing obstacles and staying focused on the organization’s values and integrity rather than any overt decisions. I find this idea appealing as it fits in well with agile software development techniques. An agile leader is responsible for having the big picture and for removing any roadblocks the team encounters, but not responsible for doing any of the work itself. This is very much the focus of the book.

While the themes were both interesting and valuable, the style was off-putting. I got the strong impression that the author was a bit of a hippie; not a hipster, but a tie-dyed hippie. I’m all for the zen aspects, but the anti-establishment ideas were often just silly. The nuttiest was the thought that we should reform our educational system by only teaching those that actually want to be taught. While it is a lovely idea that children will attend school without coercion and once there pursue a course of well-rounded instruction, anyone that believes this will lead to a scholarship intensive society is smoking something. Of course, hippies and smoking aren’t exactly enemies... :)

First Sentence:
Servant and leader—can these two roles be fused in one real person, in all levels of status or calling?

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