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Servant Leadership: The Quickest Way to Get Yourself Crucified

Servant leadership is a leadership style that emphasizes the leader's commitment to serving others, empowering their team, and prioritizing their needs. It involves leading with humility, empathy, and a focus on the well-being and growth of those being led. While servant leadership is widely acknowledged as a powerful and effective approach, it is not without its challenges. In some contexts, particularly those dominated by traditional hierarchical structures and power dynamics, practicing servant leadership can result in resistance, skepticism, and even backlash. This article explores the potential, and often intense, difficulties faced by servant leaders and the reasons why this approach can be perceived as threatening by some.

The Concept of Servant Leadership:

Servant leadership is based on the belief that a leader's primary role is to support and uplift their team members. Instead of viewing leadership as a position of authority and control, servant leaders aim to foster an environment of collaboration and mutual respect. They prioritize the needs and growth of their employees, encourage their development, and provide the necessary resources and guidance for success. Servant leaders lead by example, actively listen to their team, and make decisions that benefit the collective rather than solely their own interests.

Challenges Faced by Servant Leaders:

1. Challenging Traditional Power Dynamics:

Servant leadership challenges conventional notions of hierarchical power structures by emphasizing collaboration and shared decision-making. In organizations where authority and control are deeply entrenched, this can be met with resistance. Some individuals may view the servant leader as weak or lacking in authority, leading to skepticism and distrust.

2. Cultural and Organizational Resistance:

Servant leadership may clash with prevailing organizational cultures that prioritize individualism, competition, and a top-down approach. Leaders who prioritize the well-being and growth of their team members above all else may face resistance from those accustomed to more traditional leadership styles.

3. Misconceptions and Misinterpretations:

The concept of servant leadership can be misunderstood, leading to misinterpretations that undermine its effectiveness. Some may perceive servant leaders as "pushovers" or believe they lack the assertiveness required to make tough decisions. These misconceptions can erode trust and credibility.

4. Time and Patience:

Servant leadership requires time and patience to cultivate a culture of collaboration, shared decision-making, and employee empowerment. In environments where immediate results and short-term gains are prioritized, the servant leader's focus on long-term growth and sustainable success may be seen as a hindrance.

Overcoming the Challenges:

1. Education and Communication:

Servant leaders can overcome resistance and skepticism by educating their teams and stakeholders about the principles and benefits of servant leadership. Effective communication can help dispel misconceptions and foster understanding.

2. Leading by Example:

By consistently demonstrating the effectiveness of servant leadership through their actions, servant leaders can gradually gain the trust and respect of their teams. Leading by example and showing the positive outcomes of this approach can help overcome resistance.

3. Aligning Organizational Values:

Embedding servant leadership principles into the organization's values and culture is crucial. By aligning organizational goals and values with servant leadership, leaders can create an environment that supports and encourages this approach.

4. Balancing Assertiveness and Collaboration:

Servant leaders can strike a balance between being empathetic and assertive. While they prioritize the needs of their team, they also need to make tough decisions when necessary. This demonstrates that servant leadership is not about weakness but rather strength through compassion.


Servant leadership, with its focus on serving others and fostering a collaborative and empowering work environment, offers numerous benefits. However, the road to implementing this leadership style is not without obstacles. Servant leaders may face resistance due to challenging traditional power dynamics, organizational cultures, and misconceptions. By addressing these challenges head-on, educating stakeholders, and leading by example, servant leaders can gradually overcome resistance and create a positive impact on their teams and organizations. While the journey may be demanding, the long-term rewards of servant leadership are worth the effort. Just remember, you can’t enjoy resurrection influence without a crucifixion or two on your resume. Don’t be afraid to suffer for the greater good. Those who do are in great company!

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Being a pioneer servant leader is a high mountain for anyone to climb, but especially if they are alone in the quest. If we presume the top authority in the waning hierarchy is behind the initiative, a newly empowered servant leader can take consistent steps to change the culture dynamics if they are strategic in their choices. I recommend some serious external coaching support, especially if the top authority who stands behind them blinks. I think Keith is correct here; an individual who wants to be a servant leader but finds themselves entangled in an old-school hierarchy may be in for some pain.

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