Servant Leadership In Cyber Security

Servant leadership seems to be a growing buzzword in cyber security.

Robert K. Greenleaf coined the words “servant-leader” and “servant leadership” in 1970 with the publication of his classic essay, The Servant as Leader.

Greenleaf wrote: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. ….That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types……The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

I’m hearing the term everywhere these days. That’s not a bad thing. Employees are looking to work in organizations in which servant leadership isn’t just a principle or a slogan on an HR poster, but actually a tangible part of the organizational DNA.

One can only hope that the term doesn’t devolve into another cliché management jargon phrase thrown about so much that it loses any real meaning. When I was in the military, a similar term, “soldier’s soldier”, became an almost obligatory term within the speeches at every military retirement ceremony to describe the soon-to-be military retiree regardless of how they were actually perceived or treated others.

Perhaps the attributes and act of servant leadership can only become as broadly true as the frequency that the term is used. If so, that’d be a great step forward. Perhaps there is even an argument that servant leadership is an essential element of successful digital transformation. When employees can take ownership of the key elements of digital transformation through being facilitated by great leadership, everyone wins — the customers, the product, the team, and the leader.

What I don’t understand is when some leaders or even management role job candidates use the term to describe themselves.

“Servant leader” should be a term that others use about someone else, not one that they use about themselves. The level of concern and prioritization for others and their welfare is in the eye of the beholder.

That perception is measured in a 360 degree manner around every granular activity that a leader performs.

Word and deed.

Large and small.

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You can also find more of my previous content at the “CISO & Cyber Leaders” publication on Medium:



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Opinionated Security

Tony Grey * CISO for an insurance company * grew team from 3 to 22 * led large software teams at Microsoft * blogs about cyber leadership & program development