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The Effectiveness-Lab

Servant leadership and its place at the bionically-balanced entity

Leadership is power’s twin.

Leadership grants leaders a lot of power, and such power can be used in several ways. Some leaders have used power to coerce others into involuntary submission, others have used power to get consensus in teams, or to only define the direction and let the led get on with the journey. Clearly, there are many variants of how leaders use power – both good and bad.

This week, we discuss the servant leader and how effective they can be at the bionically balanced entity. Some of you will ask, why servant leadership? Well, usage of leadership paradigms that place people first is on the rise. It’s apparent that firms that shall get the best out of a brittle, demanding, emotionally vulnerable millennial generation need to put people first.

The servant-leader is a servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test for a servant leader is: do the served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived? (Greenleaf, 1977/2002, p. 27)
“The Service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” – Muhammad Ali

For centuries, the owners together with their managers and leaders have defined the terms of employment and the worker has obliged. Today, the employee is increasingly defining the terms of employment.  The owners and their representatives have little choice but to satisfy the worker’s demands. This is an interesting reversal of roles and one that may not go away soon.  Especially, as the digital age continues to influence operations at the modern firm

With the renaissance of the worker, effectiveness theorists like the Effectiveness lab have been forced to look at leadership paradigms that put people first using a much stronger OD. lens.  How effective are leaders that ascribe to such people-laden theory?  Are such leaders too spiritual and therefore soft, that they sacrifice attention to other organizational vitals (OV) like strategy and design? Does serving others, and allowing them individual growth and increasing autonomy, tantamount to a leader giving up power and control over other organisational vitals?

At the Effectiveness lab, we know that not paying appropriate attention to all the four organizational vitals [leadership, strategy, design (architecture) and people] results in bionic-imbalance and all its negative consequences

This blog collocates the Effectiveness lab’s five critical leadership attributes against those of the servant leader.  In the end, we should be able to determine the extent of OV interconnectedness at the servant led entity, and whether a servant leader can do well at the bionically balanced entity.

  Effectiveness lab’s x5 attributes:   Servant leader x10 attributes:    
1. Knowing and understanding the context at the organization

Smart leaders both know and understand how to get maneuver around the particular context at an organization.


General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader. Awareness helps one in understanding issues involving ethics, power, and values. Greenleaf (1977/2002) observed: “Awareness is not a giver of solace—it is just the

opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity” (p. 41).

2. Taking a bird’s-eye view of the organization

Bionically-balanced organizations are like living organisms – intimately interconnected.  Smart leaders take a bird’s-eye view of all the four organizational vitals: leadership, strategy, design (architecture), and people.
Servant leaders seek to nurture their abilities to dream great dreams. The ability to look at a problem or an organization from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities. For many leaders, this is a characteristic that requires discipline and practice. The traditional leader is consumed by the need to achieve short-term operational goals. The leader who wishes to also be a servant leader must stretch his or her thinking to encompass broader-based conceptual thinking. The most effective executive leaders need to develop both conceptual and operational perspectives within themselves.


Closely related to conceptualization, the ability to foresee the likely outcome of a situation is hard to define, but easier to identify.  Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future. It is also deeply rooted within the intuitive mind.

 3. A knack for understanding the ‘intangibles’ that drive value-creation at the organization

Smart leaders do not always need technical skills to match the core business of the organization’s they lead. Instead, they need the INTANGIBLES

They are soft-habits – innate to the DNA of a smart leader and are not easily copied:

  • Pendulum oversight – the ability to swing like a pendulum between strategic, tactical, and operational level issues.
  • From the pendulum-oversight, leaders attain a bird’s-eye view of the organization, identifying potential trouble across the organization.
  • The capability to relate what they observe, to the people that work for them – empathizing.
  • Commitment-to-people-development strategies.
  • Ability to seamlessly make small yet significant incremental changes to the value chain of the organization.

The servant leader strives to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirits. The most successful servant leaders are those who have become skilled empathetic listeners.


Peter Block (1993)— defined stewardship as “holding something in trust for another”.  CEO’s hold their institutions in trust for the greater good of society. Servant leadership, like stewardship, assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of others. It also emphasizes the use of openness and persuasion, rather than control.

 Commitment to the Growth of People:

Servant leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, the servant leader is deeply committed to the growth of each and every individual within his or her organization

 4. Protecting teams from the organizational noise that distracts them
Accountability for the leader, unlike for the teams below them, is final. Do not pass the buck. A Smart leader takes one for the team first, then addresses the failing with the team in an honest, firm, win-win manner, at the right moment. This way, smart leaders end up on the inspirational side and create winning teams
One of the great strengths of servant leadership is the potential for healing one’s self and one’s relationship to others. Many people have broken spirits and have suffered from a variety of emotional hurts. Servant leaders recognize that they have an opportunity to help make whole those with whom they come in contact.
5. Knowing and understanding your leadership style personification and modeling behavior

A leader can’t practice servant-leadership without exhibiting such leadership behavior. Smart leaders know and understand the leadership model they ascribe to – and will behave as such.

Smart leaders do not derive their leadership endorsement from the control and power they have in the organization, but from the perception that others have of them


Reliance on persuasion, rather than on one’s positional authority, in making decisions within an organization. The servant leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance. The servant leader is effective at building consensus within groups.


A deep commitment to listening intently to others.  Listens receptively to what is being said and unsaid. Listening also encompasses hearing one’s own inner voice. Listening, coupled with periods of reflection, is essential to the growth and well-being of the servant leader.

Building Community:

The servant leader senses that much has been lost in recent human history as a result of the shift from local communities to large institutions as the primary shaper of human lives. This awareness causes the servant leader to seek to identify some means for building community among those who work within a given institution.

The above collocation shows that it would be wrong to believe that the Servant leadership paradigm is too ethereal and sacrifices attention to other vitals like strategy and design, and instead focuses on people alone.

To the contrary – in a subtle yet firm manner, the Servant leadership paradigm takes a helicopter view of the organization.  It interconnects all the four vitals.  Indeed, Servant leaders may perform better at bionically-balanced organizations in this age of the ‘worker’s renaissance’


One response to “Servant leadership and its place at the bionically-balanced entity”

  1. […] renaissance of the worker, as we called it in our last blog, is forcing the adversarial labelled leader to […]


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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