The servant leader

As an internal communicator what sort of organisational leader would you prefer to work with, the master or the servant?

In my time I have worked with many organisational leaders, some who were at the extremes of the master and servant continuum, and others who were somewhere in between. Regardless of their position in the master servant spectrum, leaders always set the context and tone for the communication activity that happens in organisations, as was recently highlighted in this excellent piece of research into line manager communication from CIPR Inside.

As well as heavily influencing the internal communication agenda in organisations, leaders also give practitioners the license and permission to communicate on their behalf. How freely this licence is granted sets the boundaries of practice and heavily influences how effectively and widely the internal communicator can operate to achieve tangible outcomes. 

Now, some might perceive the servant leader as being an example of a weak and ineffectual management style, and a risk to the organisation achieving its objectives and success, particularly in workplaces where command and control has historically dominated the culture. But, done well, servant leadership is anything but this, and effective internal communication can contribute to the success of the servant leader.

In my experience, leaders who have and consistently demonstrate the traits of servant leadership – humility, trust, empathy, and who have a genuine interest in the people they lead and can listen properly to others have been the ones who have been the best to work with. And ultimately, the more successful.

As an internal communicator, the servant leaders I have worked with have been the ones who have brought out the best in me, enabling me to use my skills to the full to help them, and the organisation, to achieve its objectives.

In sharp contrast, some organisational leaders just want their internal communicators shackled to tactical delivery and more or less treat them as slave copywriters, to draft their presidential style pronouncements and to create copious amounts of ‘engaging’ content to proliferate their self-serving messaging and ideas. God forbid that they might actually listen to any communications advice, after all any fool can be a ‘communicator’……right? Unfortunately, employees are quick to spot these closet narcissists, and beware, as an internal communicator, your own reputation risks being tarnished by association with this sort of leader.

The best leaders I have worked with have allowed me to go beyond just providing them with slick presentations and stage-managed leadership events to help them build a real relationship with employees, using internal communication, to establish their authority rather than by just issuing edicts to enforce it.

We have just said goodbye to perhaps the greatest example of servant leadership ever, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. If anyone consistently demonstrated the impact of ‘soft power’, which characterises the servant leader, over an entire lifetime it was her. Rest in peace Your Majesty, you set an example for us all to follow, whether we are leaders or not.

Archbishop Justin Welby highlighted this in his sermon during the state funeral for the Queen.

‘People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.’

Perhaps this was a subtle, but pointed, observation deliberately targeted at a captive audience of recalcitrant world leaders and others, but it was also a lesson for leaders more generally.

Those organisational leaders who have a communication and leadership style which encourages employees to ‘follow me’ and my example, are more likely to be successful than the ‘obey me’ autocrat.

What sort of organisational leader would you prefer to work with and support, those who are remembered for their service and integrity or the selfish dictators who deserve to be rightfully forgotten?


Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

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