Two Leadership Models

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

Two Leadership Models | The Lead Change GroupIn leadership, there are two distinct organizational models. Since few things are quite so black-and-white, we might consider them to be two ends of a continuium, with a virtually limitless number of stops between the two. But at their core, the distinction between the two comes down to one question: who in the organization produces the value?  Who does the real work of the organization?

Practitioner Leadership

In one corner, we have what my brother calls Practitioner Leadership. Modeled after a law or physicians office, this model has one or a very few people responsible for delivering the product or service provided by the organization. They are the expert; they have the training and their activity is the most valuable and most scarce in the organization.

Every other person in the organization supports this “leader” in performing their service. If you’re the leader and you see everyone else in the organization as your helper, you fit in this model.

Servant Leadership

In the other corner, the servant leader is the leader who recognizes that the people in the organization, those closest to the customer, create the value of the organization. A leader in this organization serves the people who create the value, working to make them more effective at delivering value and enchanting customers, whether internal or external. Leaders in this type of organization see themselves at the bottom of the org chart, supporting, enabling, sometimes correcting, encouraging and coaching people to create more value so that the organization can prosper.

Every person in the organization supports the people who create the value.

The Time Test

Over time, the Practitioner model runs out of gas or at best, simply stagnates. Regardless of what anyone in the organization does, there’s little opportunity to change your position or move “up”. Unless you go to school or miraculously prove you are as smart as (or smarter than) the leader, you will simply never measure up. You’ll always be the second fiddle.

But over the same period, the Servant model creates new energy and life. As the organization grows, the number of people creating value grows. People who do a great job creating value begin first to self-equip and self-learn and eventually go on to support others in the same role. So leaders are developed with the expectation they will support the position they know. A Servant Organization grows and develops more servants, both on the front line and in the support roles. These organizations create their own “type” of people and fuel their own growth.

Who creates the value in your organization? Do you create the end product or service, or do you support those who do? The answer to that one question says much about your organization, your leadership style, and the future of both.


Photo © marilyn barbone –

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Jon Mertz  |  08 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Insightful conversation, Mike.

The challenge can be when leaders think they are servant leaders, but act as practitioners. In their mind, they are enabling others, but their actions fall into the other category. As you state, time is the ultimate test. However, there needs to be time tests that occur earlier rather than later in order to ensure leaders are on the right path. It is a reality test to shake their mindset and wake-up to which path they are really on. After all, it is a matter of organizational survival, which ultimately impacts people.

Being in a servant leader organization is much more rewarding for all involved.



Mike Henry  |  08 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Jon, thanks for the comment. I agree about the disconnect that can happen when a leader fails to assess things accurately. Books like The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly and Greater Than Yourself by Steve Farber can help. Like many other things, simply thinking we have the answer is seldom the answer. We need to be continuously checking our opinions against objective inputs to make sure our people are growing and reaching their own life goals.

One way to test this is to simply ask the 12 questions from First Break All The Rules and compare the answers over time. Work to grow the scores.

Does anyone else have any other ideas how to guage employee opinions about their prospects for growth?

Claudio Morelli  |  08 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Mike, I love your description of a Servant Organization and its role in developing and creating leaders that fuels its growth. Although organizations value and support the practitioner leader leadership growth in others is not as intentional as the more successful and thriving organizations, the Servant Organizations, as you put it. These organizations allow room for leaders to develop throughout the organization and is not limited to a few. It starts with being a servant leader yourself and then allowing others to serve and lead no matter what position they hold in the organization. I agree with you and Jon, I would much rather lead in a Servant Organization.

Thanks! Claudio

Mike Henry  |  11 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Claudio, thanks for the comment. I’d rather do just about anything in a servant organization than just about anything in one that’s not. Practictioner models drain. And now that I’m aware of the two models, practictioner models drain me faster and more completely than ever before. It’s work to generate energy to serve a boss. It’s easy to generate energy to serve a noble vision.

Thanks again. Mike…

Christina Lattimer  |  08 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Hi Mike
Thought provoking article., thank you. As you say, It’s unfortunate but sometimes true, leaders (and all of us at times..I think :) can demonstrate a disconnect between their self image and how others see them. As to measuring an employees views about their own growth; I used a system in the UK whereby succession planning was linked directly to performance review. Employees were able to describe their promotion/development ambitions and the manager had to confirm (or otherwise) the employee had both potential and opportunity to realise them. Although not widely used as could be considered subjective and raising false expectations, I felt the benefits far outweighed those risks, and it certainly demonstrated where managers either wouldn’t or couldn’t support their employees to grow.

Mike Henry  |  11 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Great points Christina about linking development to succession planning. Even outside of work goals, that works too. I read a great book on the topic called The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly that made the point in avery memorable way. When we help people achieve their dreams through their job, the organization benefits from the alignment of all of their creative energy. Great thoughts. Thanks.

Bill B. Flint Jr.  |  11 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Mike, great thoughts. After a 38 year career in business, including serving as President of two manufacturing companies I recently wrote a book called, The Journey To Competitive Advantage Through Servant Leadership. The main theme of the book is that servant leadership offers the best chance for a business to thrive. It is a philosophy that believes people are truly the most important asset in a business. They are not just words on a web site. Leaders who have moved away from the power model of leadership and believe their role is to help their people discover and reach their potential.
That people come to work every day with their unique personalities, dreams, goals, skills, and hunger for achieving something bigger than themselves. What they need is the right style of leadership, communication, training, and guidance to help them discover and reach their potential.
Servant leaders believe people don’t come to work to fail, produce bad products and services, or have a bad day. It is a leader’s responsibility to lead them by teaching, encouraging and motivating them to reach that potential.
Servant leaders paint picture, so to speak, to help their people understand what needs to be accomplished and why. Then brings them together to accomplish the company goals and objectives; It’s about concentrating on the people who do the blocking and tackling each and every day.
Servant leaders bring a vision that believes that the best strategy to achieve organizational goals and create a competitive advantage is by developing and environment of caring, mutual trust, and respect between the leaders and the people by focusing their efforts and energy on developing the full potential of all associates and the business therefore creating a winning partnership.
In the end servant leaders have discovered that it is their responsibility to make difference in the lives of the people they have been called to lead.
Here is a link to YouTube to a speech I gave on servant leadership at Leaderfest in Wisconsin in April if anyone is interested. Link:

Mike Henry  |  11 Aug 2012  |  Reply

Bill, thanks for the great comment. I’ve almost said one of your sentences word for word. No one (or almost no one) starts a job planning to be miserable or frustrated, detached or unproductive. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. If they can’t do that in their job, they’ll participate in non-profits. It’s only when they’re out of options do they settle for purely selfish ambitions.

Servant Leaders don’t serve the selfish people very well. They serve people who share a common goal. And the greater the goal, the greater the energy. When those people start to serve themselves, in the interest of the team and the goal, it’s up to the servant leader to correct or separate.

Thanks again for the great comment. Mike…

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