Pradhan Sewak – Servant Leadership

Our Prime Minister started his speech yesterday by calling himself “Pradhan Sewak” not “Pradhan Mantri”. “Pradhan Sewak” means Prime Servant and “Pradhan Mantri” means Prime Minister. Now, this man is a politician and some may just call this a clever use of words. But there is a ring of sincerity when he utters the words. He works exceptionally hard, like he said “if you work 12 hours, I will work 13. If you work 14 hours I will work 15”. He has been working those hours for a long time, as Gujarat’s CM and since May 16th as the country’s PM.

There are some leadership lessons to be drawn from him. We talk of Servant Leadership – a term coined by Robert K Greenleaf in 1970 in a paper he had written. The oxymoronic use of the two words “servant” and “leader” was done to shock and surprise people and thus gain attention. Well today, this form of leadership is touted as the best form of leadership – you serve the folks on your team/company and not be the traditional boss. Great concept and we have many leaders practising it, like John Mackey of Whole Foods. An older form of servant leadership is decision making through “consensus” that the Japanese are famous for. All differences are thrashed out in the open and anyone, irrespective of rank/title/position can share their views and the final decision is one to which everyone agreed. The biggest advantage of this style of decision making is huge buy-in from all the stakeholders and while the decision making process will be tedious and slow, the implementation is defect free and really quick.

Being a servant leader is not easy. Most leaders we see in the corporate world use the words liberally, but cannot bring themselves to be servant leaders. How do you identify a servant leader ?

Here are some clues – watch the meetings they lead, do they talk all the time or they put out a question or problem statement and let the group discuss, debate and come up with solutions and then take the final decision to move ahead ? If you find a meeting where the leader is doing all the talking, he/she is not being a servant leader, whatever humility they bring into their tone. 🙂

The second clue – when you have a different viewpoint of their pet view/project, do they let you voice that viewpoint and give it due consideration and in some cases change their view ? Atleast do they live with the different perspective and “agree to disagree” or do they go after you to change your view to theirs and conform ? I can see the smiles and hear the loud laughs as some of you are reading this – if the answer is yes, you are being led by a servant leader or else it’s the regular narcissistic, coercive or authoritative leader you are led by.

The third clue – how much do they care for “getting credit” ? Do they ensure that they and their favorites are always seen as doing the “good” work and getting noticed for it ? Don’t go by what they say in public forums about “I don’t care about who gets credit”, that’s a decoy. Watch what they do with the plum projects and how they position themselves 🙂 A dead give away that they do care about who gets credit.

The fourth and the last clue – watch what happens when they leave. Do things fall apart as the great leader moves out or does the successor take on and work continues, maybe in a different style but the basics remain and nothing falls through the cracks. The outgoing leader hasn’t left a ripple behind… May be missed, but is not needed to fix things. Tough one, right ? When things break down behind you, it’s a huge ego boost that it worked because of you :). Difficult to let go of that feeling and most leaders of such leaders don’t see it. There is no glamour in good succession planning !!

Servant leaders are hard to come by – they are few and rare. But the organizations they leave behind thrive and continue to succeed unobtrusively. That’s the operative word – unobtrusively. Not many people like missing out on the hype and hero worship.

Now, Mr. Modi is attempting to be a servant leader on the world stage. Tough act, but he is someone who has done tough things right through his life. Wish he succeeds spectacularly, so that India succeeds spectacularly as well and we get a non-corporate leader proving “servant leadership” works.

Suggested reading –

John Mackey’s interview in 2011

Principles of servant leadership

4 thoughts on “Pradhan Sewak – Servant Leadership”

  1. The desire to serve this country is the very essence of Narendra Mody. He is an epitome of that quality…Very well written Bindu. Raja


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: