Power-Distance and Caring Leadership (Part II)
‘Top-Down’ (Authoritarian) Leader or ‘Face to Face’ (Horizontal) Leader
Nowadays it is popular to talk about servant leadership. In management courses, we emphasise horizontal, ’on-the-floor’ leadership, where leaders and managers are in touch with those they lead.
But if honor depends on position, titles and status, and if directors naturally give orders ‘from the top’, how should we understand ‘servant leadership’?
Entering the Story
When someone thinks about us, we feel encouraged and honored. Afghans say, ‘That person entered my story.’ Sadly, many people die emotionally and spiritually because they feel ‘No one thinks about me, no one cares about me.’
The word story is an interesting way to express how someone cares for another person. ‘My story’ refers to my experiences, failures and successes. When someone doesn’t care for me, I feel dishonored by that person, as if that person has slighted me. But when someone does care for me, I experience value and inner joy. They have entered my story.
In the ancient Roman world, thinking of others’ welfare was far from the minds of Roman citizens. The Roman satirist Lucian wrote, “ not only have never shared with us, but never deign even to notice ordinary people.”Such humility, in the sense of caring for others, was no virtue in ancient Roman or Greek ethics.
I propose that with ‘servant leadership’ we need not reject all ‘top-down’ patterns nor need we adapt to horizontal, egalitarian ways. The question can be framed differently: How can a ‘position’ leader also be a ‘people leader’ without losing their authority and honor?
Can a director not maintain their distance and influence and develop healthy relationships at the same time? Is it not feasible that an authoritarian leader can genuinely care for their personnel (or church group) and yet carry respect and maintain their own honor?
Directors who understand that every person in their sphere of responsibility has worth and value will relate to them in that light. They will care for them and give them value.
If a director gives attention and honor to their employees, rather than losing some of their own honor, will they not have gained more honor? When a leader, who thrives on the privilege of leading their flock, moves ‘downward’ in order to sit with them, listen to their stories and seek to understand their issues, they will not lose respect but experience more.
When a leader enters the story of one of their staff, they have honored that person. And in so doing, the leader has increased their honor. When they follow the path of esteeming others, caring for their welfare, they experience higher honor.