Discuss the relationship between servant leadership and ethical leadership.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Basically, servant leadership is a type of ethical leadership. In other words, not all ethical leaders are servant leaders but all servant leaders are ethical leaders.

The main goal of ethical leadership is to acknowledge that the job of a leader is not just to attain power or to focus...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Basically, servant leadership is a type of ethical leadership. In other words, not all ethical leaders are servant leaders but all servant leaders are ethical leaders.

The main goal of ethical leadership is to acknowledge that the job of a leader is not just to attain power or to focus on end result but to consider the moral aspects of both how subordinates are treated and the goals to which an organization strives. Ethical leaders often are concerned about the negative externalities of their actions, such as contributions to global climate change.

Servant leadership was a concept developed by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay "The Servant as Leader", a work inspired by Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East. In this, he argues that rather than focusing on "the accumulation and exercise of power" leaders should emphasize the well-being of all stakeholders they serve.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the name implies, ethical leadership is about leading with ethics being at the center of everything you do. To an ethical leader, doing the right thing is more important than the bottom line. For example, if an ethical leader of a clothing company realized that the cheap T-shirts he was importing were being made in a sweatshop, he would stop using that supplier, even if he had to pay more to get the T-shirts from a different supplier.

A servant leader believes that in order to lead a group of people, you need to serve them first. Servant leadership is characterized by power sharing, performing to the best of one's ability and putting the needs of the people being served first. For example, a servant leader at a big corporation is likely to insist on regular training for his staff—not to ensure that they do their job better, but to ensure that they grow as individuals.

The link between the concepts of ethical leadership and servant leadership is that they are both about doing what is widely perceived as the "right" thing. By being an ethical servant leader, a CEO is likely to increase his profits in the long term due to low staff turnover and having staff who are at work not because they have to be, but because they want to be.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In simplest terms, one is a subset of the other: Servant leadership is one concept of ethical leadership.

Ethical leadership in general is the idea that leaders have ethical responsibilities to their followers, that leadership is not simply the passing down of absolute authoritarian commands from top to bottom. Ethical leadership demands that leaders hold to their own moral values, and also respect the rights and dignity of the people they lead.

Servant leadership is a more specific concept of ethical leadership, on which the reason one becomes a leader is not to command, but to serve---similar to the notion of government officials as "civil servants". A servant leader may issue orders, but only toward the achievement of common goals; they coordinate the actions of others, rather than seeking to control them. They try to ensure the well-being of their subordinates and help them grow in their own lives. The opposite would be something like Nietzche's "will to power", where you command others for the sake of commanding them.

One thing that surprises a lot of managers is that servant leadership is efficient; workers perform much better when they are comfortable and given autonomy. Even if you were a callous psychopath who cared nothing for the well-being of your workers, it might still be rational for you to take on a servant leadership style simply to maximize your company's profits.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team