November AMCI Book Review Corner

The AMCI Reading Corner is a crowdsourced resource share aimed to serve as a platform for the AMCI community to share book recommendations and reflect with personal takeaways. Starting with monthly postings, more ways to engage will be shared as the idea grows.

This month, AMC Institute's Thomas Pigg, shares his review of The Servant Leader, by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges.

Note: These views are strictly the views of the author and do not necessarily represent AMCI's views.

What is the first thought you have upon hearing the words “Servant Leadership”? If you are like me, you might conjure up an image of a leader rolling up their sleeves and jumping into the trenches with their staff. Maybe you think of the type of leadership seen in a non-profit or even faith-based organization. Surely, this couldn’t be a leadership style for a for-profit company, right?

A few years ago, I would have agreed with that assumption. After all, I was working in a faith-based membership association when I first came across the idea of servant leadership. My team at the time read and worked through The Servant Leader, by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. Ken Blanchard is no stranger to the world of management books. In fact, has authored or co-authored over 60 different books on the subject, including the best selling The One Minute Manager.

The Servant Leader initially comes off as a simply a book for spiritual people, but I think it has much to offer for everyone, regardless of what they believe or don’t believe. Blanchard and Hodges outline their approach to addressing the qualities of a Servant Leader by looking at four key areas: Heart, Head, Hands, and Habits of a Servant Leader.

But, before we can get into these four areas, we first must define what servant leadership is, so that we can properly look at the qualities that a servant leader will have. According to Blanchard, in the Servant Leadership management style, “Leaders assume a traditional role to set the vision, direction, and strategy for the organization—the leadership aspect of servant leadership. After the vision and direction are set, the leaders turn the organizational pyramid upside down so that they serve the middle managers and frontline people who serve the customer. Now the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for the task of implementation—the servant aspect of servant leadership.”

In other words, the leader goes from being served or self-serving, to serving those who trust in their leadership.

With that in mind, we can consider these four areas of a servant leadership:

Heart – At the core of servant leadership, as well as the biggest obstacle to it, is the heart. Of course, when the heart is spoken of, it isn’t to the literal heart pounding in one’s chest. Rather, when considering the heart, a servant leader must examine their motivations for being a leader and check their ego at the door.

The question must be asked: Am I a self-serving leader, or a servant leader? According to Blanchard and Hodges, one can answer the question by how they respond to feedback. A self-serving leader will always seek to protect their position and status, so they will usually respond to negatively to feedback, because that endangers their leadership. On the other hand, a servant leader will thoughtfully consider feedback. Their motivation is to better serve the staff, the company, the client, and/or the mission.

Head – Moving up from the heart, Blanchard and Hodges ask leaders to consider what is going on in their heads. The motivation the comes from the heart of a servant must be met with the head of a servant. One of the primary roles of the servant leaders is to set a clear and compelling vision for their team. This vision should excite the leader, and in turn, excite the staff to walk alongside the leader in pursuing the vision.

A good vision will include:

  • Your purpose and mission – How will you benefit your clients?
  • Your preferred picture of the future – What does the future look like if everything goes as planned?
  • Your Values – What do you stand for?

When you thoughtfully create and share a vision that answers these questions, you are serving your staff and your clients, because they know exactly what you stand for, and are excited to share in that. There is a sense of shared purpose.

Hands – Moving out from the head, Blanchard and Hodges next explore the hands of a servant leader. The hands represent the behaviors and actions of leaders. They state “Right leadership motives and clear leadership thinking, when coupled with inept or self-serving behaviors, will bring frustration and inefficiency into any leadership effort”.

This area, in my opinion, is the meat of The Servant Leader. I find this section so compelling that I often go back to re-read it and find myself amazed by it each time. In this section discussions about transformational leadership, the seven reactions to change in an organization, and the four leadership styles. What I find most relevant to in this current day, however, is the discussion on valuing people and performance. According to the authors, a “key element of being a servant leader is to consider people’s development as an equal end goal as their performance”.

Performance is absolutely an important goal. But do we get so caught up in valuing performance that we don’t think to value developing our staff? I think Blanchard and Hodges summed it up nicely: “As a servant leader, the way you serve the vision is by developing people so that they can work on that vision even when you’re not around”.

When we value people, we value their development. They will in turn value your vision and leadership and will follow in your footsteps. In a time of burnout, resignations, and staff shortages, developing staff is a way to serve them, your clients, and your company.

Habits – In the final section of The Servant Leader Blanchard and Hodges touch on the habits of a servant leader. Many of the habits in this section of the book are more religion based and might not apply to you or your organization, but two stand out the most for me: Practicing Solitude and Maintaining Supportive Relationships.

Being a servant leader can be taxing on a leader. It calls leaders to turn away from mindsets and behaviors that have become common place in our society, and to consider others before considering self. These adjustments to heart, head, and hands can leave a person burnt out, if they do not take care of themselves as well. While a servant should look out for others first, they cannot do so if they have nothing to give. So, these two habits are ways to help pour back into your life, so that you can continue to pour out into the lives of your staff.

Solitude is nearly impossible to achieve in the 21st century, but Blanchard and Hodges explain its benefit: “Solitude and silences gives up some space to reform our innermost attitudes toward people and events. They take the world off our shoulder for a time and interrupt our habit of constantly managing things, of being in control, or thinking we are in control.” As a leader of a company where so much falls on your shoulders, doesn’t that sound nice? This should be a habit that all leaders practice, both to relax and to prepare.

Conversely, there is also the need for supportive relationships. Being a leader can be a very lonely prospect. When my former team read this book and then provided a half day retreat on it, I was tasked with discussing the habits with our audience, who were school principals. When I surveyed the crowd, almost every single hand when up when asked if they felt alone in their leadership position. If I were to survey the leaders of our AMCs, I suspect many would also feel the same way.

Being alone in leadership is more dangerous than simply feeling lonely. When we are alone in leadership, we rely on our own ideas and perspectives, while ignoring our blind spots, and that can invalidate all the work that we have put into the leadership position. Blanchard and Hodges encourage servant leaders to practice having supportive relationships. These are not simply people that tell you what you want to hear. They give you honest feedback and encouragement because they care about you, your vision, and the work you are doing.

I feel that The Servant Leader has been one of the more impactful books that I have read during my career. It helped me realize a few things that I think is helpful for everyone to realize:

  • Everyone, no matter how big or small their role, can be a servant leader. No, not everyone can make business decisions, set agendas, or sign documents. But everyone can make a pledge to lead by serving their teammates, their company’s mission, and their clients.
  • Leaders should always consider feedback from others. We all have strengths and weakness, perspectives, and biases. Leaders should always be willing to listen to staff who offer respectful, constructive feedback. In considering feedback, staff who feel they have no voice now feel more confident and respected, and leaders have more data to consider when making decisions.
  • People are the greatest resource. In a time when companies are bleeding burnt-out staff, servant leaders can make a difference by truly serving their staff. Maybe this means giving them a vision they can be excited about. Or perhaps, it means treating their development as equally important as their performance.

I recognize that not everyone might be excited about all the faith-based imagery used in this particular book. If that's the case, don’t worry! Ken Blanchard has written over 60 books on leadership and management, with many of these strictly focused on the business side of things. You can find those resources here: 


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