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Thought Leadership

Reconsidering servant leadership

November 18, 2020

A half-century ago, it was a fresh idea. But the phrase has lost its relevance and impact.

Fifty years ago, Robert Greenleaf wrote an essay called “The Servant as Leader” that introduced the phrase servant leadership into the business lexicon. The notion offered an important counterweight to the command-and-control leadership style of that era, and it developed a wide following in the decades that followed, with countless companies and executives embracing servant leadership as a core management philosophy.

Among the hundreds of CEOs I’ve interviewed over the years, dozens have told me that they believe in servant leadership. The concept has had a long and laudable run, worthy of a standing ovation. But I respectfully submit that it is time to retire the phrase.

Before I marshal my argument and offer a more practical way of describing leaders and leadership, let’s do a quick refresher on where the idea came from.

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The ExCo Group’s Adam Bryant wrote this article for his column in Strategy + Business. It was originally published here.