“The root of suffering is attachment.” Buddha


Detachment as a concept has a basic single definition. The application of the idea of detachment can take on many forms and functions. At first glance, detachment has potential negative connotations such as being aloof, dispassionate, disinterested, indifferent, or even distanced. These synonyms do not seem congruent with servant leadership, much less quality human attributes. This is not what is meant by detachment in this book or in reference to servant leadership. Instead, I’d like to focus on alternate definitions of detachment and specifically how they pertain to establishing detachment as a positive servant leader mindset. Those definitions or synonyms include open-mindedness, neutrality, lack of prejudice or bias, fairness, and unselfishness. 

Detachment isn’t the removal of emotion or the denial thereof (as in the first set of synonyms like aloof or indifference) but rather taking responsibility for one’s own emotions and not attaching them inappropriately to people, circumstances, and things. 

When it comes to people, detachment may take the form of letting go of control, allowing people to make their own choices and truly deep down wanting them to do so; it may also include refraining from taking responsibility for someone else’s emotional responses and even a pure commitment to never taking things personally.

Detaching from circumstances can include the ability to “stand outside” of situations and better evaluate them from a more objective point of view. It can also mean one does not allow events to dictate emotional responses such as being sad when we don’t get our way but rather viewing the circumstance for what it is: we didn’t get our way. In essence, detachment is about separating our biased meaning of a circumstance from the circumstance itself. 


Healthy detachment from work, from people, from our position, from outcomes, from being right, gives you the perspective to view a situation from a three-hundred-sixty-point-of-view. This is kind of like walking around circumstances as an objective observer. In this frame of mind, the leader is better able to see the problem for what it is, evaluate the varied solutions, and the impact of each considered solution. Once this is accomplished, the leader has a higher chance of making a decision that is best for themselves and best for the organization. 

Detachment also gives the leader no room for playing the victim. Detachment actually empowers you as a leader because in this nonreactive state, there is no need to expend precious energy on placing blame; rather, energy can be focused on choices and solutions which move companies forward. Blame, shame, accusations-all of these attachment problems only create a lack of forward motion because they are leader-ego-centric. Instead, detachment equips the leader to make empowered decisions. 

Additionally, detachment gives you space to receive and respect the input of others. You’ll more readily see the flaws in a program or the misalignment of a goal because you’re open to input of others who might have differing ideas from your own, who might see things from a different perspective. Even though a detached leader is much better at looking at the situation from a bird’s eye view, that leader will still never see every flaw in every plan. Being open to the input of others who find the flaws in your plans is crucial in leadership but the mindset at the core is detaching from your own ideas. In this, the leader is detached enough to balance the confidence needed to present their own ideas with the maturity to detach from those ideas when those ideas may not work. 

Sometimes leaders can be very passionate about their vision, their mission, and where they want to take an organization. But this passion, if taken to an extreme, can actually work against the leader. It can cause the leader to believe that their way and their vision is the only way, and, therefore, any dissonant ideas are simply anti-vision. They are right back to this whole I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong mentality. Leaders who show up this way disrespectfully dismiss the input of others because their input clashes with the passion of the leader. Passion is not an excuse for acting like a jerk and being disrespectful.

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