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For Servant Leaders: At the intersection of leadership and followership

This write-up is for those who have experience advocating for employees, members, volunteers, front-line staff, etc. to leaders AND advocating for leaders to the groups they’re over. Most of my experience has taken place in somewhat dysfunctional settings and from the viewpoint of a servant leader, so this is reflected as well. I want to note that to assume that most in leadership positions are servant leaders is to make an incorrect assumption. Lastly, many of us that have been or are currently at the intersection of leadership and followership have had some bizarre experiences… Do what you can with the grace you have for a specific season but make sure to fill your cup and/or move on once the grace runs out.

For those in healthier environments/settings, it may be helpful to mentally change each bullet point to reflect the healthy actions that your leadership and/or team are taking to create a culture of service and support.


Leaders and followers (in dysfunctional settings):

  • Expect the other to serve them (many do not think of ways to actually serve the other)
  • Demand the right to give minimum input but receive great gain/value
  • Have a “what have you done for me lately” mentality
  • Use language around “friendship/family” as a tool to gain leverage rather than build healthy relationships
  • Withhold critical feedback as a tool to gain leverage which usually leads to unnecessary roadblocks and unpleasant surprises
  • Expect their offenses to be overlooked no matter how grievous
  • Want to be accepted as they are with no questions asked
  • Use gaslighting to keep the other in line... which usually leads to unnecessary roadblocks, unpleasant surprises, and somebody getting run off or getting sabotaged in some way

Why is this important?

Any work that you are doing behind the scenes or in front of people's eyes as a servant leader is subject to the QUALITY of the relationship between leaders and those they are supposed to be leading.

Unless you find yourself in a position of leadership that gives you some kind of authority or a sliver of time to change systems in a meaningful way, much of your work will be done in vain in dysfunctional settings. It's best to be aware of this going in so that you can make decisions and quickly assess the environment you're in.

-Dr. S Anyatonwu