November/December 2019

Servant Leadership: Transforming Your Firm

Servant leadership is about a heartfelt willingness to place the needs and interests of others above yours.

Thomas C. Grella

Some words seem to be overused, seemingly not having either a singular, uniform or clear definition. A word that has, over the past several years, achieved definitional confusion is “leadership.” Renowned leadership expert John Maxwell claims that leadership is, plain and simple, influence. Nothing more and nothing less. On one level this is true. However, in Appendix A to the first edition of his book A Practical Guide to Leadership for Lawyers, Herb Rubenstein documents 90 different brands of leadership, contained within 16 different categories.

Notwithstanding Maxwell’s simple definition, apparently leadership comes in many different types, shapes and sizes, each uniquely defined. One brand of leadership that is not only defined broadly by one’s influence over others but is specifically about providing followers with both support and encouragement to ensure the long-term succession and accomplishment of an organization, such as a law firm, is servant leadership.

Servant leadership is not just a different nametag for leadership. Neither is it just a life of service to others. It is a value incorporated into one’s life that leads to achievement of purpose. Where most leadership experts might, without focus on the motives or intentions, broadly define leadership as an influence process where thoughts and actions of others are directed toward an organizational purpose, servant leadership focuses on selfless service to those being led as a primary motive. Selflessness therefore becomes a prerequisite to influence. Most leaders, if asked whether they were leading primarily out of a desire to serve others, would likely answer yes. But are they ... really? 

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