I had an interesting experience the other day that highlighted an anti-pattern for Servant Leadership that I had not seen before. The context was me expressing a concern around a decision that was made that had impact to myself and others. The decision had not been communicated & no consultation had happened. To my surprise I found myself hearing the following :

“You are at the top of your Ladder of Inference and haven’t bothered to check assumptions or gather other information ”

Followed shortly by :

“The defensiveness is all coming from you!”

Implying of course that the other person had nothing to do with the situation that had been created.

Now they weren’t wrong! I was expressing a perspective that concerned me and it wasn’t my best day (even facilitators and coaches have an off day). Then again, they weren’t right either.

I was expecting a space where I could express a strongly held perspective and have the space to release it and engage with it from all angles. I wasn’t expecting a space where perfection in delivery was a requirement. What I got was a complete shut down with blame attached. Strong defensiveness was not the surprise – the surprise was how Servant Leadership was used against me to win and defend and justify an action.

I found myself wanting to believe that it was all my fault, that I had no right to my perspective and that I was somehow deficient and incompetent for even speaking out and doing so in such an allegedly clumsy manner. I found myself wanting to feel guilty and apologise and backtrack and let go of my concern.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the easiest place to stay out defensiveness and try and have a rational conversation.

To cut a long story short. If you find yourself using your knowledge to judge the people you are with and to diagnose them and declare them wanting, then you are not coming from a place of serving or compassion or even a place where a constructive sharing can occur. This is the place of unilateral control where as an individual you believe that you have the answer, that you are right and it is your place to tell the other that they are wrong and how they are wrong.

This is a place that creates disconnection, disgruntlement and active resistance. You may be right! It doesn’t matter! No-one engages and trusts when they are made to be wrong and submit to the ‘right’ answer. No-one engages when they are not heard and are blamed and guilted.

How often do you find yourself knowing that the other person is wrong ?

How often do you find yourself telling that person why they are wrong ?

How often does this approach have the desired impact ?

We all come from unilateral control. There is nothing wrong with it! As leaders and change agents the most powerful impact we can have in the world is to stop reacting and instead create gentle places for people to speak about their concerns, own their actions and enable them to choose something different.

What spaces are you creating ?