The Dark Side of Servant Leadership: Power Abuse via Serving

  • Volker KesslerEmail author


This chapter is about a dark side of Servant Leadership in the context of religious and other normative organizations. The metaphor the leader as servant can become a tool for the abuse of power. Since the concept of Servant Leadership is rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview, it is quite popular within churches and Christian organizations. I present eight mechanisms by which the metaphors serving/servant can be abused by leaders: (1) serving a transcendent goal, (2) increasing commitment, (3) the principle of reciprocity, (4) creating dependency, (5) pretending to be powerless, (6) servant leaders as saints, (7) infantilization of the followers, and (8) servant leaders as martyrs. Six of these mechanisms can be applied for good and for bad. The misuse can be found both on the personal level and on the institutional level. My conclusion is that we should aim for Servant Leadership but also be aware of the potential for abuse. And leaders should never call themselves “servant leaders” any more than truly humble persons would call themselves “humble”.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Akademie für Christliche Führungskräfte & GBFEGummersbachGermany
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, Practical and Systematic TheologyUniversity of South AfricaPretoriaSouth Africa

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