What Does Service Mean?

Since our launch in March 2020, we have been reading, listening and talking with lots of smart people about what it means to be in service to others. 

This started as a conversation about servant leadership and quickly evolved because of what we heard from leaders who looked and thought differently than Curt. It is easy for a white, straight male like Curt to say he is acting in service to others when just about every system in our society has been set up to serve his needs. However, from our research and dozens of conversations we had about this topic, it was clear that the word servant was very complicated for many and created an imbalance that felt disingenuous or oppressive. This model was especially unapproachable for leaders who identified as female, Black, brown, indigenous or came from other equity-seeking groups. It is not right to be asked to be a servant when the systems you push against daily already perceive you that way. 

Welcome To Service Leadership

Clearly, servant leadership is broken. While it was an admirable approach to leading and supporting others 50 years ago, servant leadership is out of touch with our modern world. The opportunities and challenges facing families, communities and businesses are too urgent and complex to rely on this limited concept that only works for a few. We fully agree that leaders absolutely need to serve those around them; leadership without service is unrewarding, ineffective and boring. However, it is clear that the imbalance created by the word servant makes this concept unapproachable for the vast majority. 

Knowing we need a new way to lead and collaborate, it is time to retire servant leadership for a few powerful reasons:

  • Anyone asked to be a servant is not in an equitable relationship
  • It implies others have problems that only we can solve
  • It can be driven by a need to lead, rather than a desire to serve

So as we look past servant leadership, Four Simple Words is excited to share a concept we are calling Service Leadership. Unlike the we-know-better models of the last century, Service Leadership is not an act of isolated sacrifice. Rather, it is a partnership with the person, idea or movement with which we want to move forward. Grounded in self-care, equity and collaboration, Service Leadership creates positive change without devaluing people or ideas. 

The 21st century is demanding that we rethink how we connect and lead our families, communities and offices. Thank you for your service, Servant Leadership. We’ve got it from here.

How can we be of service?

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