Dabble – Is a Servant-Leader a Means to an End?

The servant leader, emotional intelligence, blah blah thing has always struck me as bogus; a means to an end.
– the oracle

1_stack looking up cropThis quote is an excerpt from an email that my friend, the oracle, sent me on 2015 February 11. Also mentioned in the email was the following –

“The attached article touches on these things and since I know you dabbled in Servant Leadership, I thought you may find it interesting.”

The article? From The AtlanticThe Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence, by Adam Grant.

This post is about my friend’s perspective about servant leadership and like-kind management approaches. It also includes a reference to another friend’s pondering about authority.

(In following posts, as I gather my thoughts, I will share more about Grant’s article, my evolving thoughts about my servant-leader philosophy, my friend’s perspective, and my workspace experiences.)

As context to my friend’s perspective, he is a big “Adam Smith” guy. He reference’s Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (also available free on Project Gutenberg Consortia Center Collection) as his foundation of interpreting people’s interactions and choices.

Shades of dark?

While I do not consider my servant-leader philosophy and practice “bogus” per se, I very much understand my friend’s perspective. Grant raises his issues (with emotional intelligence) about introducing emotion for motivation and manipulation, particularly in workplaces with “fewer emotional demands” –

However, in jobs that involved fewer emotional demands, the results reversed. The more emotionally intelligent employees were, the lower their job performance. For mechanics, scientists, and accountants, emotional intelligence was a liability rather than an asset. Although more research is needed to unpack these results, one promising explanation is that these employees were paying attention to emotions when they should have been focusing on their tasks. If your job is to analyze data or repair cars, it can be quite distracting to read the facial expressions, vocal tones, and body languages of the people around you. In suggesting that emotional intelligence is critical in the workplace, perhaps we’ve put the cart before the horse.

I recollect instances throughout my workplace experiences – primarily mathematically data-driven tasks, requiring objective results – where I have felt the cart before the horse expectations – and in particular, unspoken expectations of approaching and/or having an emotional response to the results.

The email from my friend

The following is the email I received from my friend, where he references Adam Smith, Markov, and Machiavelli.

As you know, I’m a big “Adam Smith” guy.  His work in Theory of Moral Sentiments and particular his concept of the “man of system” has always affected how I view people that are, to state generously, politically motivated and, to state more critically, unauthentic.  The servant leader, emotional intelligence, blah blah thing has always struck me as bogus; a means to an end. The chess-board metaphor used to stochastically describe personal engagements promotes the fallacy that our social establishments are so orchestrated that they can point us to a specific, shared goal.  When in fact, human interaction is Markovian in that the outcomes depend on where you are and not where you’ve been and where you end up depends on a series of discrete choices. Adam Smith wrote, “The man of system is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamored with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.” This ring so true in light of the myriad of corporate coaches and consultants trying to “help” business act better as well as the nonsense of socio-political construction.

The pretense objectified by good deeds by the system is far less about what’s good for us and more about what’s good for the man developing his own ideal plan.  Today, emotional intelligence is simply a more politically correct way of characterizing Machiavellian behaviors.  From the attached article, “Leaders who master emotions can rob us of our capacities to reason…there’s a fine line between motivation and manipulation.”  I tell my staff all the time that management-motivation-manipulation is a broadly overlapping Venn diagram. Great care is required to maintain authenticity and ensure that what we are doing is valid for the whole and not just the one when the lives of many are in play.

Invoking authority

Unrelated to my discussion with the oracle but related to my evolving thoughts about servant leadership, my friend, Krish, had an interesting post about how spoken and written information is presented and how people interpret such words –

Over dinner recently, a friend mentioned that when he is unfamiliar with a topic, he tends to accept what he reads on that topic at face value. The remark sparked some thoughts I’ve been having about how the way in which information is presented can affect how people interpret it, so I shared one example that has been puzzling me. …

I bring this up because this makes me wonder how my emotional intelligence-driven friends will react (have reacted) to Grant’s article.

If servant leadership (or like-kind) is part of how you interact with (and/or manage) people, what are your thoughts about servant leadership being interpreted as Machiavellian?


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