Why are Leaders Exempt from Service?

Increasingly, it is recognised that business organisations do not exist for themselves, but for the good of society.

No longer do they only have to account to their shareholders, but they have to engage with a wide range of stakeholders in an attempt to ensure the long term interests of all. Business therefore exists to serve society.

Research has demonstrated that the success of a business rests in its ability to serve customers well. When customers actually experience the service that they expected, they are satisfied.

When these expectations are exceeded, they are delighted. Satisfied and delighted customers become loyal customers, which ultimately translates into financial success. Of course it is the employees of the business – and frontline staff in particular – who are expected to serve the customer, and their managers are there to ensure that they do so, and to provide the right business conditions in which customer service can flourish.

While the importance of service in business is appreciated, for some reason there is a popular misconception that leaders do not need to serve. Only the minority of leadership theories such as servant leadership and authentic leadership, address service as a leadership requirement.

What is more telling, is what businesses expect of their leaders. Examine an organisation’s leadership competency framework.

In this framework, the organisation articulates what the key requirements are of leaders.  Decisions about training and development, recruitment and selection and even about what type of behaviour or performance to incentivise are often made on the basis of the leadership competency framework. Typically, service is not represented in these frameworks.

Underpinning this absence of an expectation of service from leaders is a view of leadership as a position of power and privilege, where leaders are to be served rather than to serve.

Once in power, there is a tendency among leaders to do more to hold on to that power, so that they continue to enjoy the privileges that go along with the position.

But why should leaders be exempt from serving? If leadership sets the tone through their example, then perhaps it is time that we begin to expect service from leaders as well.


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