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We trust strangers more than our leaders

One of the roles I have played over the last four and half years is with Swinburne University. I am passionate about the university, it is located only several hundred metres from where my mum was born and went to primary school, my parents danced in the Hawthorn Hall opposite the university. When I was 25 they accepted me as an mature aged student and I completed my under and post graduate studies there, these contributed greatly to my career.

As an active member of the alumni I have been very fortunate to attend a range of events and last week’s launch of the Australian Leadership Index (ALI) was one of many highlights. The ALI is the largest ever survey of leadership for the greater good. For the past year in every quarter the Swinburne team has surveyed a thousand people across Australia and the data is now available at the on the ALI portal .

Anybody can interrogate the data that includes reports for the public, private, government and not for profit sectors. Data for industries and organisations will be made available in the future. The intention overtime is to establish the ALI as the referred independent source of information on Australian leadership. The ALI portal also includes some insightful articles and is exceptionally easy to navigate!

The event included some excellent speakers. Professor Sen Sendjaya’s (pictured above) address shared the opportunity for leaders to consider and implement servant leadership practices. Servant leadership is not new, the first essay was in 1970 but remains very relevant for today. The priority of a servant leader is to serve rather than lead. This leader is somebody who workers and others can relate to because their needs and interests are being cared for. Professor Sendjaya explained the irony that we now trust strangers more than our leaders – anecdotally this manifests in our willingness to ride share in public cars driven by a stranger, staying in homes of strangers and allow strangers from all over the world to stay in our home.

For more than a decade, Professor Sendjaya has empirically validated six dimensions of servant leadership which can be measured and developed in leaders. In a recent systematic review article, he and his colleagues highlight the increasing empirical evidences that servant leadership outperforms other leadership approaches in many key outcomes – employee satisfaction, commitment, intention to stay, and team performance. For example, in a two-nation study of 154 teams, it is found that servant leadership boosts employee creativity and team innovation through followers’ identification with leaders who exhibit servant leadership behaviours.

Many consider the term ‘servant’ weak, archaic, or politically incorrect, squarely contradicting the dominant narratives and cultural nuances of our day. In his book, Professor Sendjaya argued that this perception stems from either ignorance or flawed association between servant leadership and 16th-century New World slavery.

The truth is servant leadership does not operate out of weakness, inferiority, or a lack of self-respect. Only those with a secure sense of self, strength of character, and psychological maturity are willing and able to serve others through their leadership.


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