What is Servant Leadership?

What is Servant Leadership?

Millennials don’t respond well to the old command and control leadership paradigm. Additionally, the principles of Servant Leadership complement the Agile Ways of Working really well; therefore I believe the Servant Leadership model is here to stay.

The background

Servant Leadership is a philosophy. It is a way of looking at Leadership that has been embraced by companies across the globe, including Marriott International, Starbucks and the highly successful South-West Airlines.

In 1970, inspired by novel The Journey to East, Robert K. Greenleaf (1904–1990), launched the modern Servant Leadership movement with his classic essay The Servant as Leader, in which he coined the terms Servant leader and Servant Leadership. Prior to that, Greenleaf worked for AT&T and was the founder of the Center for Applied Ethics, which was later renamed the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

The most important characteristic in being a servant leader, according to Greenleaf, is making one’s main priority to serve, rather than to lead. He proposed that Servant Leaders find success and “power” in the growth of others by helping their people to develop and perform as highly as possible.

5 Principles of Servant Leadership:

1.    Character Traits | Lead with the heart and cultivate character traits such as patience, kindness, humility, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty, commitment and sacrifice.

2.    Authority vs. Power | Develop authority by meeting your people’s legitimate needs (not their wants) instead of relying on formal hierarchical power.

3.    Influence | Acknowledge that influence is the essence of leadership and inspires people to action. You don’t need to be the official boss in order to lead.

4.    Focus on the Greater Good | Aspire for a more just and caring society. Jesus, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela are classic examples of Servant Leaders, as they had a great sense of responsibility for the people they led, selflessly.

5.    Legacy | Desire to make a positive impact on society.

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t – Margaret Thatcher”

How to spot a Servant Leader?

Being a Servant Leader is about meeting the legitimate needs of the people entrusted in your care. Needs can be defined as the legitimate requirements for physical and psychological wellbeing of individuals. While basic needs include food, water, shelter etc, higher needs include appreciation, respect, being valued, communication, and being encouraged and listened to. It also includes the need for accountability, healthy boundaries and honest feedback.

Greenleaf laid out a test to identify Servant leaders:

1.    Do those served grow as persons?

2.    Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely to become servants themselves?

3.    What is the effect of the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?

7 Traits of a Servant Leader

1.    Serve first (before anything else) | They remove obstacles and enable people to succeed and grow.

2.    Lead with strong vision and influence followers | They know the way forward and bring others along.

3.    Empathise and accept | They exhibit non-judgmental awareness. They do not tolerate poor behaviour, but coach performance issues instead.

4.    Foresight grounded in expertise | They are skilled, experienced and understand the people and landscape in which they lead. They exercise foresight and study the trends.

5.    Listening | They listen more than they talk. They identify what their people need to be more effective, perform well and meet their customers’ needs.

6.    People development | They coach and mentor people and give them freedom to make their own decisions. They empower people, fostering creativity and innovation.

7.    Environment | They create a psychologically safe environment that encourages people to speak up and take risks. They provide the right conditions for people to flourish.

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. – Jane Goodall

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