bn 'Servant leadership' can address workplace challenges

By Cecil Johnson

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Some people are born leaders. Some achieve leadership. And some have leadership thrust upon them.

That Shakespearean paraphrase sums up the thrust of leadership training and development expert James C. Hunter's latest addition to the plethora of books on how to influence people to give their best to an organization, enterprise or cause.

By Hunter's count, 265,000 titles on leadership existed before the publication of "The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle." One of those was his previous book, "The Servant," which sold more than 100,000 copies. Hunter's new book endeavors to extrapolate principles and guidelines for leadership development from that.


Although people who are born leaders may profit from reading Hunter's new book, its message is directed primarily to those who must learn to lead after leadership has been thrust upon them. The author is convinced that born leaders are rare. Most leaders, he maintains, achieve that status through experience and training.

Sadly, however, in Hunter's view, most of the time and money spent on efforts to develop leaders is not well-spent. He estimates that American corporations devote about $15 billion a year to sending people off to leadership classes and bringing in consultants to train their leadership teams.

"Yet 90 percent of the leadership training and development courses organizations are spending billions on each year are a waste of time and money. Yes, the managers may receive some knowledge; they will probably leave the training feeling excited, warm, and fuzzy; yet less than 10 percent will actually change their behavior as a result of the training," Hunter writes.

The author asserts that most of the hundreds of thousands of MBAs in this country are "fit to manage" but "not fit to lead." On that score, he references a Gallup Organization study that shows that more than two-thirds of people who quit their jobs do so because of an ineffective or incompetent manager.

"Put another way, the significant majority of people who leave their organization do not quit their company, they quit their boss," Hunter says.

Nevertheless, Hunter feels change in the wind. After Sept. 11, he says, "words like character, prayer, God, and leadership" have become fashionable again and are being applied in people's personal lives and in their workplaces.

He insists that the timeless principles of what he calls "servant leadership" can address today's challenges and that the technology exists to teach people to become servant leaders. He points out that organizations worldwide are changing their attitudes about leadership, people and relationships and are moving toward servant leadership. He writes:

"In Fortune's recent installment of the '100 Best Companies to Work For,' more than one-third, thirty-five-plus organizations, are involved in the servant-leadership movement and/or specifically identify servant leadership as a core operating principle. Four of the top five on the list specifically practice servant leadership: The Container Store, Synovus Financial, TD Industries, and Southwest Airlines."


Hunter defined leadership in "The Servant" as: "The skill of influencing people to enthusiastically work toward goals identified as being for the common good."

In "The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle," he amends that definition to read: "The skill of influencing people to enthusiastically work toward goals identified as being for the common good, with character that inspires confidence."

He spends five chapters describing various components of servant leadership and contrasting them to other approaches to leadership.

One of the most significant differentiations Hunter makes is the distinction between management and leadership.

"Management is about the things we do: the planning, the budgeting, the organizing, the problem-solving, being in control, maintaining order, developing strategies, and host of other things. Management is what we do. Leadership is who we are," Hunter writes.

Good managers, he maintains, often have a command-and-control style because they think they must have all the answers and be able to fix all the problems to maintain control.

"I have known many great managers who were train wrecks when it came to leading other human beings and inspiring them to do great things. Conversely, I have known some highly effective leaders who were not particularly astute managers. Few have ever accused Winston Churchill, FDR, or Ronald Reagan of being a good manager," Hunter writes.

Another of the significant distinctions Hunter makes is between power and authority. He defines power as the ability to force people to do your will based upon your ability to punish them in some way. Authority, Hunter says, is the skill of getting people willingly to do your will because of personal influence.


Although Hunter spends most of this book reflecting on matters of high moral principle, human psychology and spirituality, he does offer some down-to-earth practical advice to business leaders at the end. Among the things he advises are:

Be careful about the people you hire and orient them properly.

Define the purpose and meaning of the work to be done and be passionate about preaching it.

Compensate people properly and give honor to all people.

Train your people well and push decision-making to the lowest level.

But above all, he insists, "Never forget that to lead is to serve."

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