Servant Leadership and Knowledge Management

I thought I was on top of the management/leadership literature but was surprised to have only come across the concept of “servant leadership” (while at a KM meeting in New York last week that I recently mentioned) when a colleague mentioned the concept in a list of suggested readings.

Although the Wikipedia entry for this topic notes that the principles date back thousands of years, the concept entered the management literature a number of decades through writings by Robert Greenleaf. It is a philosophy of “serve first” and then lead by seeing that other people’s highest priorities are being met, all the time acting ethically and aligned with the organization’s values.

The term caught my eye in part because it is oxymoronic and in part because of its possible application to library services and knowledge management. Librarianship has always been based on “serving first” and taking a collaborative approach (with colleagues and with the patron) to see that information needs are being met. The situation in knowledge management is perhaps more complicated. Clearly all those who work in knowledge management want to “serve first” and to promote organizational sharing through collaboration and so on (i.e., along the lines of “servant leadership”) but there is also the notion – if not need – for knowledge managers to take the traditional, top-down, “lead by example” and “seize the day” mentality of leadership to get things done.

Another book/topic to add to the reading list . . . .

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