Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Newsletter #46: Myth of Servant Leadership

Interesting Articles
Systems Thinking in the context of COVID
Everyone seems to be impacted due to COVID in someways or the other.  Whatever is happening around will have a deep and long-lasting impact on societies, technologies and the economy.

We could see many large companies struggling to survive and potentially could go bankrupt. At the same time, I am also hearing the government rescuing the economy in different ways. It is a piece of good news and a great gesture by the governments to jump in to save many drowning companies, it is also important to see if it is not "shifting the burden".

If you have read Senge's Fifth Discipline, you would have read about "Shifting the burden" Archetype. It usually begins with a problem symptom and someone attempts to rescue it.  This, in turn, gives an immediate relief however, it won't address the root cause of the problem. The problem stays hidden. The survivor is re-inforced with the belief that rescuer is always there to protect. This keeps weakening the system until it reaches point of no return.

Applicability in the typical product development scenario 

Here is a wonderful snippet from Senge

“Crisis heroism”: When a crisis (such as delays in a product launch) hits, the “crisis” manager is given enormous flexibility to “do whatever it takes” to get the product out. Ordinary roadblocks and formalities are swept aside. All this comprises the upper, symptom-correcting loop: the product is launched on time, and the crisis manager is touted as the hero of the day.

Meanwhile, several people have suggested the more fundamental solution of the bottom loop: redesigning the entire project management system, and rethinking the ordinary roadblocks and formalities. But this strategy would take longer, and less attention is given to it, so it has less effect on the problem symptom.”

“Most cases of “crisis heroism” include an addictive side effect: People see that if they want to be recognized for an accomplishment, they’ll have to be “heroes,” too. Gradually, the company becomes addicted to “heroically” creating crises at the expense of making fundamental long-term changes.”

Now coming back to the current COVID situation, if the government and the organisations jump into rescue everything without thinking through, they are just shifting the problem and creating an addictive behaviour which is harmful to the economy in the long run.

Further reading:

Interesting article: Myth of Servant Leadership

Key snippets from the above article

Servant Leadership (S-L)

According to Larry Spears, a chief advocate of S-L who is responsible for marketing Greenleaf s ideas, the concept of S-L came to Greenleaf upon reading Hermann Hesse's short novel.  Journey to the East.

Hesse's story is an account of a mythical journey by a group of people on a spiritual quest where the recognition of the true leader of the group takes place as a result of his acts of service and self-sacrifice for the benefit of the whole group. As Spears tells it, upon reading this story, it seemed suddenly clear to Greenleaf that a great leader is first experienced as a servant to others, and this simple fact is central to his or her greatness . . . true leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others(3).

Accordingly, for those who adopt its basic tenets, it means developing an overall attitude toward leadership that entails putting the needs of the company and employees first. It means seeing yourself foremost as a steward (Block) of the organization's mission and goals and then acting as a leader to help others coUaborativelyachieve those goals. Since its language explicitly promotes an approach to leadership that is essentially altruistic and idealistic, many proponents think it signals a turn toward the spiritual search in contemporary managerial practices 

The argument against S-L seems to be as follows:

The term servant connotes a subjugation of an existential subject that is dependent upon the presence of a master for his/her social location and organizational life. The term servant thus represents a state of submission, complete with various degrees of oppressive ramifications and power imbalances.

"To - serve" means to be self-sacrificing. The act of serving thus makes the organizational member subject to the whims and/or dictates of a higher order of discursive structures. To counteract this negative connotation of the term servant, Greenleaf paired it with the term leader, which entails and authorizes its opposite-the masterful position. The word servant thus inhibits whatever negative connotation leader evokes and conversely(Forward 145-165). From a semiotic point of view, the terms are mutually constraining, rhetorically. When organizational leaders attempt to implement this fluctuating logic within everyday organizational practices, it produces corresponding shifts in the discursive rules of the game 

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