Servant Leadership vs. Virtue Signalling

anonymous-rich-man-s-strut-300pxOnce you start to shift your focus from self-gratification to servant leadership, you’ll find many opportunities to fall back into old egoistic habits. One of the biggest challenges to anyone wanting to be a servant leader is the tendency to turn the desire to help others into another form of self-righteous pride. This can be an insidious temptation that can creep up into your consciousness if you are not careful. Question: Are you focused more on actually being of service, or wearing your service like a badge of honor?

“Virtue signalling” is the habit of publicly declaring certain “correct” attitudes towards issues, and it is often backed up by not taking action, or only taking superficial action. The phrase “virtue signalling” is a new addition to English language, coined in 2015 by a British writer. While the label “virtue signalling” is often used as a criticism of political correctness, virtue signalling is found in all parts of the political spectrum.

Example: Someone who is constantly on Facebook lambasting the “greedy 1%ers” who take advantage of the poor, but who never actually donates to charity or volunteers themselves.

Another example would be the “family values” political candidate who preaches fidelity in marriage but is off cheating on a spouse on the side.

Virtue signalling isn’t always accompanied by blatant, deep hypocrisy, but it is usually accompanied by a sense of superiority over other people. There’s often a demonstrated outrage that other people aren’t following the dictates of the “virtuous.” Meanwhile, “action” to the virtue signaller often consists of easy actions like signing online petitions or forwarding a meme on Facebook, rather than actually taking the effort to live the ideals.

You probably know people like this, or, if you search your heart, might find some of these tendencies within yourself. It’s so much easier to rant and rave than do the hard work of actually “being the change” you want to see in the world.

To avoid this trap, take a few minutes to write down an issue that you feel passionately about, that you might actually be able to do something about, and then what you can do concretely (beyond signing an online petition) to help. It doesn’t have to be a big thing that takes up all your time, though in some cases, the action might be deep and life-changing…which is perhaps why you avoided taking the action in the first place! Don’t avoid your issues – deal with them!

Example 1:

The 1% are taking advantage of the rest of us!

Virtue signalling “easy” response: Rant on Facebook, sign a petition.

Concrete action: Volunteer to help the homeless once a month. Or: Regularly donate to the food bank.

Example 2:

“The sanctity of marriage is being destroyed!”

Virtual signalling “easy” response: Lecture everyone around you about it, while neglecting your family due to your workaholism.

Concrete action: Join a Workaholics Anonymous group. Eventually, this might inspire you to be a leader for the group or teach others about work/life balance.

The key thing to remember is that virtue signaling is really more about pride than truly making a difference. It might feel good to rant on Facebook (don’t I know it!) but does it really make a difference? Perhaps you can try doing some charity in secret and see how that shifts your perspective.