Servant leadership: the new business model for leaders to follow

Traditional ideas about leadership as the property of a charismatic individual are challenged by a new book, which looks at the example of past leaders for clues to the future

What makes a great leader in the context of today’s volatile business environment? Jeff Eggers, co-author of a new book Leaders: Myth and Reality, has been trying to figure it out.

As executive director of the McCrystal Group Leadership Institute, Eggers could have leaned on his experiences of the US military, a background he shares with his co-authors General Stanley McChrystal and Jason Mangone. Instead he chose to look back to the great leaders of the past for clues to the present day.

The book challenges a leader-centric position by examining 13 famous historical leaders in six pairings and one standalone account (the Confederate General Robert E Lee). The pairs (a technique derived from the work of the Ancient Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch) include Walt Disney and Coco Chanel, Margaret Thatcher and William Magear Tweed, the Tammany Hall ‘Boss’ from 19th century US politics, and Martin Luther and Dr Martin Luther King.

In this exclusive WORKTECH Academy video interview, Eggers, a keynote speaker at the WORKTECH Toronto conference 2018, argues that the traditional leadership model should be flipped on its head – ‘put the leaders on the bottom and the followers at the top.’ In this ‘servant leadership’ model, the system or environment in which leadership operates emerges as a key factor in how leaders perform. Leadership thus becomes the property of a system and not the property of a charismatic individual. Within this new context, leaders need to balance confidence with humility – ‘a contradictory juxtaposition’ as Jeff Eggers admits.

Review of WORKTECH Toronto 2018 here. WORKTECH Toronto 2019 will take place on 4-5 November – more details here. Leaders: Myth and Reality by General Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers and Jason Mangone is published by Portfolio/Penguin (2018).