The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Servant leadership requires service AND leadership

Servant leadership has become a familiar term. Gurus such as Ken Blanchard have written books about it, and a look at the Education Twittersphere provides a regular call for leaders to serve.

Those calls, in general, focus on the humility leaders should have. I could not agree more, a selfless drive to help others, and to put the organization you work in before your own ambitions are simple, but profound reminders that the day will come where someone else will work in your office. In our profession, leaders cannot accomplish anything alone, and we gain far wider support from listening and working with people instead of mandating actions.

While those who focus on servant leadership might not discount the need for toughness, it doesn’t appear in the literature nearly as much as the talk about humility. The emphasis is on the word “servant,” but the second part of the term is “leadership.”

A leader who truly serves his or her organization knows there are moments where the answer must be “no,” where issues can be overtalked, and where little or no consensus is possible. In these moments, true servant leaders must be tough, make decisions, and be candid about why they are making the choice they are. Having difficult conversations, denying a request, or starting the conversation around a new initiative is some of the biggest “service” a leader can give. While these moments are not always pleasant, they are necessary. As a leader, if you are not willing to take on the tough topic, your organization suffers, and you are not “serving.”

As you start your year, remember to be humble and to be tough. It’s what servant leaders do.


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