Healthy Leaders


Log, Stork, or Servant Leader: Which Will You Be?

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Aesop tells the story of a group of frogs who searched for the leader of their dreams. One of them found a log and brought it back to the pond, and, for a while, the frogs were happy with their new leader.

Soon, however, they found out they could jump up and down on their new leader and run all over him. He offered no resistance nor even a response. The log did not have any direction or purpose in his behavior, but just floated back and forth in the pond. This practice exasperated the frogs, who now decided they needed “strong leadership.”

Abandoning their log-leader, they went back to their search for a leader. Finally, one of them found a stork and persuaded him to return to the pond and be the frogs’ leader. The stork stood tall above the members of the group and certainly had the appearance of a leader.

The frogs were quite happy with their new leader. Their leader stalked around the pond making great noises and attracting great attention. Their joy turned to sorrow, however, and ultimately to panic, for, in a very short time, the stork began to eat the frogs.

The frogs were like some followers who go from one extreme to the other. If only they had chosen a different kind of leader!

We can identify three broad kinds of leadership:

The following contrasts the various behaviors of these three kinds of leaders.

Authoritarian Leader Servant Leader Non-Leader
Promotes own personal vision Aligns vision with followers’ needs and aspirations Has no clear vision
Self-serving vision God- and follower-serving vision Possesses no overarching purpose
Sets goals individually Involves people in goal setting Allows people free rein to set their own goals
Insensitive to followers’ needs Desires to meet followers’ needs Only responds to followers’ needs when absolutely necessary
Uses power for personal gain or impact Uses power to serve others Uses power only when necessary for short-term advantage
Uses a combination of positional, coercive and reward power Uses primarily servant power – sometimes some expert power Often relies on positional power to maintain role
Engages primarily in one-way, downward communication Engages in two-way, open communication Engages in non-committal, superficial communication
Controls discussion with people Facilitates discussion with people Avoids discussion with followers
Demands own decisions be accepted without question Stimulates followers to think independently and to question the leader’s view Lets others make the decisions unless he has a vested interest in it
Censures critical or opposing views Learns from criticism Ignores criticism, if possible
Threatened by independent thought from a follower Encourages and praises independent thought from a follower May be positive or negative toward independent thought by a follower
Sets policy and procedures unilaterally Solicits and receives input regarding the determination of policy and procedures Allows people to set policy and procedures
Dominates interaction Focuses interaction Avoids interaction
Hoards information to maintain control Dispenses information to empower others Ignores information if possible
Micro-manager Strategic manager Non-manager
Personally directs the completion of tasks Provides suggestions and alternatives for the completion of tasks Provides suggestions and alternatives for the completion of tasks only when asked to do so by people
Rarely delegates entire projects – only small parts – so he maintains complete control Strategically delegates entire projects to develop the people doing them, as well as to get the job done Does not delegate, but rather “dumps” entire projects on others
Gives over-explicit directions on every project he “delegates” Gives strategic direction – balances getting the job done right with developing the person and allowing for new and different ideas Gives little direction
Takes advantage of others for the benefit of his own vision Coaches, develops and supports followers Leaves others alone unless asked to get involved
Demands all recognition Shares recognition with others Allows others to take recognition
Provides infrequent positive feedback Provides frequent positive feedback Provides infrequent feedback of any kind
Focuses on negative behavior Focuses on positive behavior while dealing appropriately with the negative Ignores as much as he can
Rewards obedience and punishes mistakes Rewards good work and uses punishment only as a last resort May offer either rewards or punishments
Is a poor listener Is a good listener May be either a poor or good listener
Uses conflict for personal gain Mediates conflict for corporate gain Avoids conflict
Acts more like a parent in a dysfunctional family Acts like a leader in a healthy organization Acts more like an abstainer from duty
Negative role model Positive role model Negative role model

The research shows that each of these leadership styles has a significant impact on the people.

Non-leaders create isolation.

Non-leadership and servant leadership styles are not the same. People with non-leaders are not as effective or fulfilled as people with servant leaders. Under non-leaders, people generally have a feeling of isolation and they withdraw from participation in the group. One exception to this is the highly-motivated and expert person who may do well under a non-leader.

Authoritarian leaders foster hostility, division, and lack of initiative.

Groups with authoritarian leadership experience more hostility and aggression than groups with servant or non-leader leaders. Hostile and aggressive behavior in the form of arguing, division, and blaming occurs much more frequently in authoritarian than in other groups.

Authoritarian-led groups may experience discontent that is not evident on the surface. Moreover, such groups will experience a very high turnover rate of people. One church had an extremely authoritarian leader but seemed, outwardly and superficially, to be in unity. However, after the leader had died, severe division erupted and eventually destroyed the church. This division had always been there – under the surface – but everyone had been too afraid of the leader to rock the boat.

People also exhibit more dependence and less initiative under authoritarian leaders. People in authoritarian groups will appear more submissive than those in other groups. They will be less likely to initiate action without the approval of the leader, and less likely to express their opinions and ideas than people in other groups.

Servant leadership fosters creativity, cohesion, and efficiency.

People demonstrate more creativity and innovation under servant leaders. They also exhibit more commitment and cohesiveness under servant leaders. They have a stronger sense of responsibility to the group, will be more committed to the group’s vision, and will be more supportive and friendly toward each other.

Although groups led by authoritarian leaders are often the most efficient, servant leaders also achieve high – and considerably more stable – efficiency. People under authoritarian leaders only maintain high effectiveness when the leader is present. Moreover, such leadership enhances performance on simple tasks but decreases performance on complex tasks, such as birthing an entirely new vision or subunit of the organization. Under a servant leader, these more complicated tasks can occur.

A servant leader will not be an authoritarian “boss” of those he or she leads, maintaining strict control, creating distance to emphasize role distinction, and telling others what to do and always how to do it. A servant leader, in contrast, bases his or her relationship with followers on mutual respect and trust.

In conclusion …

The twentieth century was known as the “Century of the Holy Spirit” as God poured out His Spirit in a wonderful way upon the earth. But there is much restoration to go. The church herself must change – she must become more like the organic “bride” and “body” of the New Testament.

For this to happen, there must first be a restoration of leadership. We will never experience the joy and fruitfulness of New Testament church life without first the reestablishment of New Testament servant leadership!

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