Servant leadership: An Opponent-Process Model and the Revised Servant Leadership Profile

Wong, Paul T. P. and Don Page (2003). Servant leadership: An Opponent-Process Model and the Revised Servant Leadership Profile. Servant Leadership Roundtable – October, 2003.

Most of the companies at the top of Fortune Magazine’s best companies to work for in America have adopted some aspects of SL

There are at least two reasons for its resurgence:

  • SL is part of the larger movement away from command-and-control leadership towards participatory and processoriented leadership in the IT-based economy
  • SL holds the promise of an ethical and socially responsible management and leadership as an antidote to corporate scandals.

The practice of SL

However, many leaders, including Christian leaders, have questioned the practicality of implementing SL within their work environment.

Dave Goetz (2000) “One key question for me is how power and servant leadership interact. Do you have to give up power to be a servant leader?”

In addition to French and Raven’s (2001) five sources of power (i.e., reward, coercive, legitimate, referent, and expert). Hersey, Blanchard, & Natemeyer (2001) have included
connection and information as additional bases of power; they also presented a situational leadership model.

A multidimensional model of SL

The servant leadership profile

Basically, SL covers two areas: Servanthood and Leadership.

With respect to servanthood aspects, the leader develops the people, who help build the organization.

With respect to the leadership part, the leader builds the organization by effectively using people as resources;

Barriers to SL

In the final analysis, there are only two real barriers: authoritarian hierarchy and egotistic pride.

One obvious reason why servant leadership does not work is that it cannot flourish in a hierarchical organization.

Another difficulty in practicing servant leadership in America is that we are in a culture of individualism and competitiveness which foster egotistic pride.

An opponent-process model of SL

But the root of craving for power is insecurity – the fear that without power, one will be vulnerable to attack and mistreatment.

According to our opponent-process (OP) model, the presence of an authoritarian hierarchy (AH) and egotistic pride (EP) means the absence of SL.

Implementation of SL

The OP model sheds new lights on how we can best implement SL in an organization. This can be done at least on two fronts: leadership training as well as grassroots workers education.

With respect to leadership training, seminaries, leadership and business management programs need to develop curricula that address the dangers of AH and EP in terms of organizational structure and corporate governance. Courses on ethical issues, leadership styles, and organization design can all include a component of SL.

With respect to grassroots workers education, they need to be taught both the values of SL as well as the dangers of AH and EP. They need to learn the danger of blind obedience to authority, including religious authority.

A leader is best when people barely know that he exists. Not so good when people obey and acclaim him. Worse when they despise him. If you fail to honour people they fail to honour you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, We did this ourselves.
– Lao Tzu

Another strategy to implement SL is through community building.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner (1993) have pointed out that: “ In a productive work community, leaders are not commanders and controllers, bosses and big shots. They are supporters, partners and providers”(p.7.).

Peck (1997) also emphasizes that in building a genuine community, “control is relinquished and traditional hierarchy is set aside” (p.72).

Defining Characteristics of Community in the Workplace

Inspired by Naylor, et al. (1966, pp. 1-8.)

  1. Shared vision developed as a shared vision of the future.
  2. Common values that are mutually identified and upheld.
  3. Boundaries for keeping the organization’s tension under control in order to assure the collective commitment to the shared vision and values.
  4. Empowerment involving the creation of a system of governance and a community decision making process which enables all community members to share equally in setting the direction and influencing the organization.
  5. Responsibility sharing through cooperation, team building, and participation.
  6. Growth and development strategies to foster spiritual, intellectual, and emotional growth and development that will produce psychological well-being.
  7. Tension reduction through conflict management both internally as well as with external communities.
  8. Education and training in shared community values, decision-making, governance responsibility, growth and development, and tension reduction.
  9. Feedback, which continuously monitors and corrects community performance against stated objectives.
  10. Friendship in an environment that encourages friendships to develop among managers, among employees, and between managers and employees.


  • French, J. R., & Raven, B. (2001). The bases of social power. . In W. E. Natemeyer & J. T. MccMahon (Eds.). Classics of Organizational Behavior. (3rd Ed.) P.321-329. Prospect  Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
  • Goetz, D. (2000) Servant Leadership Redux: From obedience to reflex. Leadership Journal, January 26.
  • Hersey, P., Blanchard, K. H., & Natemeyer, W. E. (2001). Situational leadership and power. In W. E. Natemeyer & J. T. MccMahon (Eds.). Classics of Organizational Behavior. (3rd Ed.) P.321-329. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
  • Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (1993). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Naylor, T. H., Willimon, Wl W., Osterberg, R. V. (1996). The Search for Meaning in the Workplace. Abigon Press.
  • Peck, S. (1997). The different drum: Community making and peace. New York: Simon & Shuster.
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