A single word easily changes the meaning of a sentence.
I walked the dog becomes I surfed the dog.
I witnessed something like this happen at the Northeast Ohio E&Y Entrepreneur of The Year Awards Ceremony last month. If you ever get the chance, go. The stories are inspiring and the production quality is up there with the Grammys.
One of the finalists in the professional services category was Fathom, a digital marketing and analytics agency. In the documentary-style introductory video, Scot Lowry, Fathom’s President & CEO, stated that the company’s servant leadership culture is something which makes it special. I took note because I seldom hear leaders talk about servant leadership.
The concluding frame of each video included a one line summary of what made the candidate unique. But instead of servant leadership, Fathom’s said “assertive leadership.”
This one-word mistake made me laugh at first, but the more I dwelt on it the more I was troubled by it.
It’s unfortunate that servant leadership is so rarely discussed (and practiced by even fewer) that someone misheard the message and communicated an entirely different story to more than 500 people.
It’s unfortunate that servant leadership gets thrown out, along with vision, values, culture, etc., because it seems too ooey-gooey.
But I think it’s most unfortunate that this misinterpretation is likely a reflection of the state of leadership today. Many leaders probably deem assertiveness as core to leadership. Commanding and controlling is more prevalent than serving, connecting and inspiring. Just to be clear, I don’t think these philosophies are mutually exclusive. A servant leader can and should be assertive, but I just don’t think “assertive leadership” works as an overarching leadership style.
All this just to say I wish servant leadership was more widely discussed and embraced.
My hope is that you and I will help spread the word.