The Selfie Generation: A Call to the Renewal of Servant Leadership

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. – Lao Tzu
In 0.2 seconds after typing the word “selfies” into the Google search engine more than 17 million results turned up. To say that we live in a narcissist generation is obviously an understatement.
For those of you who have been visiting another planet and are not up to speed on what a selfie is let me introduce you to the phenomenon. Selfies, as defined by the Urban Dictionary are, “pictures taken of oneself while holding the camera

at arm’s length.” In recent months it has become the trendy thing to do and mimic since the likes of Ellen and other celebrities have turned it more into a fun fad.
While on the surface there is nothing wrong with selfies (yes, I have taken one or two myself) there is a broader or deeper prevailing issue I’d like to explore as it relates to leadership styles. To be clear, in this writing my reference to selfies is a depiction of self-indulged leaders and not about the practice as defined in the Urban Dictionary. My concern is that with the rise of the selfie generation we are in danger of losing sight of the meaning and relevance of servant leadership.
A leadership pyramid I studied some years back by John Maxwell showed that the higher one climbs as a leader the more rights he or she surrenders. In its place is more responsibility. My concern is how less rights and more responsibility fits the narrative of a selfie culture. How do servant leaders emerge from this mindset? How do selfie leaders measure up against servant leaders? Here are but a few examples.
Selfie leaders choose style whereas servant leaders choose substance.
For the selfie type of leader it’s all about their image. Decisions are made and based upon not what’s best for the organization or team but how it makes him or her look. It’s a leadership trap to be sure. Everyone wants to be liked and to be popular, but servant leaders gave up that right a long time ago. Servant leaders will stand for and with those who choose substance over image. In the end it’s about honoring their principles over their popularity. The servant leader sets the example with his integrity.

Selfie leaders are more concerned about receiving while servant leaders care more about giving.
Nothing will more clearly define and set the two apart more readily than this. The selfie leader is all about what’s in it for him while the servant leader is about giving. It’s all in the math. The selfie subtracts (takes) while the servant leader adds (gives). It’s a reflection of the heart and priorities. The servant leader sets the example not by what he takes but by what he sacrifices and gives.

Selfie leaders care more about their position while servant leaders care more about their people.
There is no substitute for the human equation in leadership. Positions come and go, but at the end of the day the servant leader who cares less about his title and more about his people is the one who will survive. Selfie leaders can’t help themselves. Eventually it all comes back around to them. Selfie leaders will do whatever it takes to protect that which matters least (position or title) while using the people who matter the most. It’s a sad trap many aspiring leaders fail to see. The servant leader sets the example by modeling humility.
Max de Pree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” I believe this leadership philosophy is needed today and is a blueprint for the future. Servant leadership is not about being a weak leader but rather a strong and convincing one. The ultimate measure of a leader’s power is not found in the authority that he or she is willing to grab hold of but in what they are willing to lay down. It’s not determined by demanding more rights but in assuming more responsibility. I believe now more than ever in the power of servant leadership. What do you say?


© 2014 Doug Dickerson

If you enjoy Doug’s leadership insights you will especially enjoy his books, Leaders Without Borders & Great Leaders Wanted. Order them both at