Commanding Leadership and Servant Leadership: A Contrast


It’s no secret that I’m a huge proponent of servant leadership. There’s a depth and richness to the philosophy of servant leadership that really can’t be reduced to bullet points, but one thing I’ve found that’s helped folks as I’ve discussed this at conferences and during consulting engagements is drawing contrasts between servant leadership and other types of leadership or management.

One of those types of leadership with which I often draw a contrast is command leadership. As you peruse the contrasts between servant leadership and command leadership below, you’ll likely begin to realize how startlingly commonplace command leadership still is within many organizations. Further, you’ll quickly see why that style of leadership can be so detrimental to teams and organizations.

So let’s take a look at some of the differences between the two.

Servant Leadership & Commanding Leadership: A Contrast

The commanding leader’s objective is to be served. The servant leader’s objective is to serve others.

Commanding leaders desire to be envied by others. Servant leaders fight against unchecked ego and endeavor to embrace humility.

Commanding leaders are interested primarily in their image, reputation, and personal advancement. Self-preservation and personal image is at the forefront of most decisions. Servant leaders seek to enable and empower teammates to progress and realize their fullest potential by being others-oriented rather than self-centered. The team or organization and all its people are considered and promoted before self.

For commanding leaders, entitlement of their position is more important than the position’s responsibilities. Servant leaders view the responsibilities as far more important than any perks a position may offer.

Commanding leaders view and treat co-workers as inferiors and only invite those who kiss up or those who they view as allies into decision-making. Servant leaders view colleagues as equals from whom they can learn and with whom they can work together to accomplish tasks and make decisions.

Commanding leaders create an atmosphere of dependence using power of position and control over financial wellbeing to influence. Servant leaders create an atmosphere in which power is freely shared and people are encouraged to be more free, autonomous, and whole human beings.

Commanding leaders believe their opinion is the most important one, even though they may not say that out loud. Servant leaders sincerely value the opinions of others and are eager to listen and learn from their perspectives.

Commanding leaders seek first to be understood. Servant leaders seek first to understand.

Commanding leaders condemn others for mistakes and do everything they can to avoid accepting responsibility for their own mistakes. Servant leaders admit mistakes, value and learn from them, and are quick to offer praise to others.

Commanding leaders reject constructive criticism and take the credit for their teams’ accomplishments. Servant leaders encourage input and feedback and deflect praise to their teams for team successes.

Commanding leaders are threatened by others’ advancement and success. Servant leaders eagerly develop others.

Commanding leaders make decisions in secret with their select group of cronies. Servant leaders make decisions openly with their teams, valuing transparency.

Commanding leaders use intimidation to silence critics and are defensive in nature. Servant leaders welcome candid discussion on improvement and are open to learning from anyone.

Commanding leaders win support for ideas through deception, power plays, and/or manipulation. People respond out of fear. Servant leaders win support for ideas through logic and persuasion. People respond out of respect and a sense of it being right.

Commanding leaders promote those who follow without questioning or are pliable. Servant leaders promote those who demonstrate service to others, leadership, and skill in contributing to team and organizational success.

Commanding leaders’ authority is based on external controls in the form of rules, restrictions, and regulations maintained by force, intimidation, or threat of formal discipline or termination. Servant leaders’ authority is based on influence from within through encouragement, inspiration, motivation, trust, respect, and persuasion.

Commanding leaders are accountable only to superiors, and only to the minimum degree possible. They frown on personal evaluations, and view them as a necessary evil that must be endured in order to receive more money. Servant leaders embrace being accountable to the entire organization. They welcome personal evaluations and view accountability as a shared thing between a group of people.

Commanding leaders cling to power and position. Servant leaders empower others and aren’t enamored with the trappings of power and position.

As you can see, in many respects, servant leadership and command leadership are antithetical to each other. A good gut check for those of us in leadership positions is to ask ourselves as we’re reading these which way our tendencies happen to lean as it relates to each pairing above. Are there certain areas where our leadership more closely resembles a command style than it does that of a servant leader?

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