Servant Leadership in Diverse Contexts

Updated June 9, 2022

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Servant Leadership in Diverse Contexts essay

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Servant Leadership in Diverse Contexts Megan Drumm Grand Canyon University: MGT-410 October 7, 2018 Servant leadership is a concept that is prominent all around the world. While aspects of it vary from different cultural contexts as well as in various religions, strong traces still appear almost everywhere. Specifically, I will be looking at the Chinese culture, which showcases several of the characteristics that also appear in servant leadership. The concept of high power distance and low individualism scores may tell us more about Chinese culture than what meets the eye. These two things can greatly affect how prevalent servant leadership is within a country. Secondly, I will be examining Buddhism. Diving deeper into the beliefs and practices of this religion, many of the roots tie in very closely with those of servant leaderships. Especially because one of the key elements of Buddhism is selflessness. Servant leadership has been around for quite some time now. This has allowed many cultures and religions to adopt key principles and characteristics and in some way or another, make it part of their own identity.

According to Geert Hofstede, a well-known professor for his work with cross cultural groups, the Chinese culture varies in many aspects when compared to what one might be used to in the United States. Power distance is one of the categories that was studied by Hofstede. A countries power distance score shows how well the individuals within a culture deal with others having different amounts of power within an organization. According to Hofstede’s studies, China has a high power distance score. This means that they do particularly well with unequal distributions of power. In fact, most people in the Chinese culture expect and accept that power can be distributed unequally (Hofstede, n.d.). In fact this is how they thrive as a society. Another area Hofstede studied was individualism. China scores extremely low in this category, meaning that they are a very collectivist culture. Instead of thinking in terms of ‘I’ they think in terms of ‘we’ (Hofstede, n.d.). They tend to work towards a common goal. This means that individuals within a group will act in ways that will benefit the whole group more than themselves.

They take lots of pride in reaching a common goal alongside their teammates. This can relate to servant leadership in the sense that while one person may be the leader, it is important that they also act as a teammate. Helping to guide others, teaching them how to grow, and leading them in the right direction is what sets them apart from other types of leaders. Both of these key principles, power distance and collectivism, can be tied in with servant leadership. In order to be a servant leader one has to have some form of power or influence. In some cases this might mean that power is or needs to be distributed unequally. This ties in with cultures like China, that tend to be more collectivist because they work together in groups to achieve a common goal. This provides an excellent platform for a servant leader to step in and be able to be very effective. If the culture has a high power distance score and a low individualism score than this provides a good starting platform for servant leadership to become more easily taught and practiced. Especially if they are already accepting of some of the key elements that are needed to implement this leadership style.

A primary example that represents both of these qualities is the traditional Chinese legal system. The people that make up Chinese culture tend to listen to the rules set by the most powerful person in social hierarchy (Wang, Chiang, Chou, Cheng, 2017). In order for this to be effective, citizens have to be accepting of different levels of power within the government. Alongside this the Chinese legal system was primarily designed to protect the entire social order. Their focus was not on individual rights (Wang, Chiang, Chou, Cheng, 2017). However, there has been a constant debate between ‘rule by man’ and ‘rule by law’ and how to balance them out (Jenco, 2010). The ideal scenario is for the leader to be the prime example of what society members should model after. (Wang, Chiang, Chou, Cheng, 2017). This is also another key principle when looking at servant leadership. The leader is often called to lead by example. However, one of the major differences when looking at this example is that while servant leaders often want to benefit the lives within a community, they also want to help benefit individuals lives. However, in Chinese culture the major emphasis is placed on the group itself not so much the individuals that make up the group. A rather dark example of this, but an example nonetheless would be young adult suicide rates. In the past there has been talk of places, like China, that place a major emphasis on doing well in school.

Because of this, school becomes very competitive. This competition helps foster better higher education, which in turn makes the country’s workforce more productive and stronger as a whole. However, sometimes individuals cannot compete or keep up, so they resort to suicide. But because this system benefits the group or the majority of people in the long run, nothing is put in place to help the individuals that struggle. Buddhism is a religion that revolves around three basic truths which are, impermanence, lack of self, and suffering (Johnson, 2013). The ‘lack of self’ aspect within the Buddhist religion is the most prominent comparison to that of servant leadership. In fact, it encompasses a huge portion of what it means to be a servant leader. Buddhism places a major emphasis on being completely selfless. By following this it allows one to be interconnected with everyone and everything. The common goal that one tries to reach as a Buddhist, is to achieve a state of nirvana. After reaching a state of nirvana it becomes their job to help guide others to it as well. This closely relates to servant leadership. It is the leaders job to not only guide, but also serve their group or followers in the sense that they are teaching them how to grow and how to become servant leaders themselves.

One of the ways to become enlightened is to realize that all suffering comes through worldly desires. Buddhists believe in the four noble truths which are, all life involves suffering, suffering is caused by desire, suffering can be ended, and people can end their suffering by following the eightfold path (Mohn, 2015). Each of these types of suffering can in one way or another be ended by becoming completely selfless. To them this means setting aside their worldly desires and focusing on reaching an enlightened state of being. They detach from things that might cause them to lose their state of selflessness. Tying this in with servant leadership, a servant leader must be selfless. A servant leader must be willing to serve and able to lead. Sometimes this might require them to take more of a servant like role, and other times a more leading role. In conclusion, Chinese culture displays several key principles that servant leadership also places emphasis on. They accept high power distance and are extremely collectivist. They work to benefit the group. However, a major difference is that servant leadership works to help benefit the group as well as the individuals within a group.

While Chinese culture may overlook the well being of individuals. Buddhism relates more closely to servant leadership in the sense that they place their major emphasis on being selfless, and helping to guide others toward a state of enlightenment, otherwise known as nirvana. A servant leader often puts those around them first. They want to help others reach their goals and they also want to promote the goals and missions within an organization as a whole. Overall, aspects of servant leadership can be seen all around the globe in both different cultures and religions.


  1. Hofstede, Geert. “What About China.” The Hofstede Centre, Itim International, geert-hofstede.com/brazil.html Jenco, L. (2010).
  2. ‘Rule by Man’ and ‘Rule by Law’ in Early Republican China: Contributions to a Theoretical Debate. The Journal of Asian Studies, 69(1), 181-203. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20721775
  3. Johnson, J. A. . M. (2013). Buddhism. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=86179268&site=eds-live&scope=site
  4. Mohn, E. (2015). Four Noble Truths. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true& db=ers&AN=87322203&site=eds-live&scope=site
  5. Wang, A.-C., Chiang, J. T.-J., Chou, W.-J., & Cheng, B.-S. (2017).
  6. One definition, different manifestations: Investigating ethical leadership in the Chinese context. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, (3), 505. https://doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s10490-016-9495-7
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