I’m coaching a founder (I’ll refer to her as Pam) who is on the fence. Pam hired an able team of designers and artists to create “thinking games” for children. But, she is toying with the idea of managing her business by blending in and serving her team versus leading them in the traditional sense. Pam wants to provide “Servant Leadership,” a popular 21st century management model. In this model the founder assigns roles and tasks to subordinates, and then offers support, such as researching, stocking supplies and running their errands. Mmm…sounds like she wants her subordinates to run the show? Pam is seeking coaching because investors are getting antsy. Abiding by the servant model, she’s having a hard time motivating her team to move forward and meet crucial deadlines. Her startup is in stuck mode and here’s why:

When a founder is taken up with ground level activities, the role of the leader is diminished. A founder needs to have some level of detachment from his subordinates to pursue opportunities for the business, brainstorm ideas and make the tough decisions. This bit of healthy distance from employees allows the founder to articulate the vision and provide direction to employees.

When employees see their founder catering to their needs in an extreme manner, they are less likely to view him or her as an authoritative figure. If problems arise and the servant manager needs to switch to a more authoritative leadership role, entitled employees have a hard time meeting the new expectations independently.

Servant leadership de-motivates employees. It’s is like a parent bailing out his child by constantly stepping into to fix things or to do the homework for the child. When employees think their founder will unconditionally and non-judgmentally resolve issues that arise, it’s easy to take it easy and let quality and performance slip.

A happy ending: After several months of a frustrating, but well-meaning stint of Servant Leadership, I encouraged Pam to take a vote and see how her team wanted her to lead. Not surprising, they voted to have Pam resume her role as leader. They voted to exchange the freedom and nurturing for increased productivity and direction that would give them a sense of fulfillment at the end of a week. Most of them missed the “good stress” associated meeting a deadline and taking responsibility. Her team declared that returning to “real leadership” was better for them and for the future of the company.

Need help leading in a way that maximizes cooperation and teamwork without becoming a servant to your team?  Contact me at [email protected]