Book Review: Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership

James W. Sipe and Don M. Frick wrote Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership as a means “”to be concrete about how to implement Servant Leadership, without turning Robert Greenleaf’s formulation – leading by serving first – into a collection of “tips and tricks.””  Servant Leadership is one of the lesser-known theories of or approaches to leadership, largely because in the industrial era, effective management was thought to be performed best by individuals that could delegate, create well-defined jobs, and instruct others on how to perform them.  It was a top-down approach, and employees were expected to do their jobs and little more.  Servant leadership relies as Sipe and Frick note, on serving before leading, which turns traditional management techniques on their head.

Greenleaf wrote extensively on the topic of Servant Leadership, but most of his writing was conceptual and somewhat abstract.  Sipe and Frick do a good job in Seven Pillars of defining characteristics that are central to the effective Servant Leader and discussing their implementation.  In Seven Pillars, the authors repeatedly ask the reader to question herself – to perform a vast personal exploration, which is required in order for her to truly know herself.  Each chapter includes many ‘Ask Yourself,’ questions that help the reader get to her own intentions and feelings about human interaction and leadership.

The pillars themselves are self-explanatory, and the list may not look new.  Perhaps with the exception of Moral Authority, employees would easily list most of these characteristics if asked to define what they believe makes a good leader.  I believe the power of Servant Leadership lies in the effective and consistent combination of the above characteristics within leaders, and also in the intentions of those leaders.  It’s hard to rank the elements in the list in terms of importance because they are all vital to the Servant Leader.  However, being a person of character that puts people first and is compassionate (not just in collaboration) seem to me to form the foundation of a true Servant Leader.

Below are the names Sipe and Frick give to the Seven Pillars, with an example ‘Ask Yourself’ question from each pillar’s chapter:

I – Person of Character

How can I reposition myself so that what I do is congruent with what I know I should do? Are there sufficient reasons for me to even try?

II – Puts People First

Is my mentoring about me or the person I am mentoring?

III – Skilled Communicator

Can I tell stories that demonstrate my personal values?

IV – Compassionate Collaborator

What are my anger warning signs?

V – Foresight

How can I discriminate between intuition and personal wants or needs?

VI – Systems Thinker

How comfortable am I with complexity?

VII – Moral Authority

Do I secretly feel good about having power over other? If so, what is one thing I can do differently today to share power with others?

Finally, the book includes a useful chapter on implementation, which prescribes five categories of questions and actions that can be applied to any organization to help move it in the direction of becoming a servant led organization.  The categories will look familiar to the everyday business person – Discovery, Desire and Incentives to Change, Learning, Practice, and Feedback.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in developing a personal plan to become a servant leader, and/or to developing an organizational plan to weave servant leadership throughout the fabric of the organization.

For more on leadership topics, visit Simon Teague’s Leadership Expert site.

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