Educate September 2018

Book Review: “Servant Leadership in Action” Edited by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell


Written By: Sharon B. Brown

What kind of leader serves others first and leads second? It sounds backwards, but co-editors Ken Blanchard and Robin Broadwell make the case for this selfless leadership practice in their book “Servant Leadership in Action”. Blanchard is a well-known author, speaker and leadership development expert, and Broadwell has worked with him for years. Together they’ve collected 42 essays that take the reader on an in-depth tour of what it means to be a servant leader.

Putting other people first. That’s it – servant leadership in a nutshell. It turns tradition upside-down and places the leader at the bottom of the organizational chart, in the service of everyone above. The term was coined in 1970 by Robert K. Greenleaf and his writings are cited in many of the essays. But while Greenleaf put a name on it, it’s far from a modern concept. There are quite a few references to the original servant leader, Jesus.

“Servant Leadership in Action” is not an easy read. But its structure as a collection of stand-alone essays makes it a book you can open anywhere and get started. If one essay doesn’t grab you, skip it and move on to another. If you’re intrigued by the idea of leading by serving, you’ll find plenty of inspiration.

A positive thing about servant leadership is that it seeps out from the workplace into families and then into schools and churches and the larger community. It’s a model that anyone can follow and you don’t have to be a CEO to develop your servant leadership skills. It’s a daily practice of asking “How can I help” or giving praise when you see something praise-worthy happen.

One highlight for me came early in the book in the section on fundamentals. The author of the piece worked with Greenleaf and distilled his knowledge down to the 10 characteristics of a servant leader. I found it fascinating that Foresight is one of the 10. He said it is a “largely unexplored” characteristic and “deeply rooted in the intuitive mind.” References to intuition in business/leadership books are few and far between, so it was nice to see this included.

Part Two, the Elements of Servant Leadership, had several essays that spoke to me. The title of Tom Mullins’ essay, “Servant Leaders Celebrate Others” says it all. According to Mullins, you can’t celebrate your team’s victories enough. Yes! And Henry Cloud writes about “The Four Corners of the Leader’s Universe.” The corners refer to places where all employees live: In corner one you find people with no connection at all – they don’t feel like they are heard or encouraged or supported. Corner two is where people feel connected but in a negative way, leading to feelings of resentment. Corner three has people with fake connections – maybe they seek awards and approval to substitute for real engagement. In corner four we find the real connections where people feel comfortable being honest and vulnerable. It’s a simple but powerful way of assessing a team.

For a person like me who enjoys biographies, Part Four, Exemplars of Servant Leadership, was fun to read. The essays in this section highlight the lives of people like Frances Hesselbein who led the Girl Scouts for 14 years. I love this quote of hers: “Every day I find a way to make a difference…And then at night I ask myself, ‘What did I do today that helped someone, some group or organization? In what way did I make a difference in someone’s life?’”

Blanchard and Broadwell did a fine job curating the essays included in their book. It’s worth keeping a copy on your desk and reading slowly, incorporating practices as you go along. If you’re interested in making this management style your own, this is a great place to start.

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