The performance of your team will depend greatly on your leadership style. Choosing the right leadership style will help you build trust, motivate team members to action, and generate results. While several leadership styles exist, the choice will depend on your goals. If you desire to inspire your employees to make an impact or work toward the greater good, servant leadership may be right for you.
What is Servant Leadership?
Servant leadership is a philosophy and style of leadership where the leader interacts with others to achieve authority rather than power. Simply put, servant leadership is a style that requires the leader to prioritize serving the greater good. People who adopt this type of leadership take the traditional power leadership model and turn it upside down. They create a new hierarchy that puts the people or employees at the top, with the leader at the bottom. In other words, servant leaders serve their team and organization first instead of prioritizing their own objectives. They focus on:
- Encouraging ownership and trust among the team
- Setting the strategic vision for the team and communicating to all members
- Providing a framework for the team to flourish instead of prescribing direction for every duty
- Make sure the team has the required skills, resources, budget, and attention to make an impact
- Bottom-up empowerment involves building the confidence, collaboration skills, and decision-making abilities of the team members
Servant leadership is a system that embodies a decentralized organizational structure. Instead of focusing to achieve power, servant leaders seek to serve others. They have a serve-first mindset, which allows them to empower and support people who work for them. Servant leaders serve instead of commanding and show humility rather than brandish authority. They are constantly looking for ways to enhance the development of their followers in ways that unlock creativity, potential, and a sense of purpose.
Brief History of Servant Leadership
Servant leadership is a universal concept that has its roots in both Western and Eastern cultures. Early Chinese philosophers such as Laozi in the 5th Century BC asserted that the best leaders would finish their work by saying they did it themselves. Over the years, the concept has revolutionized putting more emphasis on the needs of the followers.
Robert K. Greenleaf mentioned the term “Servant Leadership” for the first time in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader.” He based the idea of servant leadership on leaders who prioritize serving the greater good. Such leaders do not prioritize their own goals and objectives, but rather focus on serving their team and organization first. Greenleaf went on to establish the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership based in Atlanta, which continues to promote the philosophy of leaders as servants.
Important Traits of a Servant Leader
Servant leadership is unique in that the leader seeks to achieve a vision by offering strong support to the followers. This allows employees to learn and grow in the organization while bringing their own vision and expertise to the table. It also allows the leader to build authority and influence instar of using toxic and control leadership tactics. With the focus more on the team, the key attributes of a servant leader include:
Servant leadership is about gaining a better understanding of other people’s perspectives and intentions. You can achieve this by temporarily sidelining your viewpoints and focusing on what others think or feel. Being empathetic also means having an open mind to situations and valuing the perspectives of others.
Servant leaders serve people better by having a deep commitment to listening intently to them. Being keen on what others are saying allows you to understand them better and establish common grounds. You can improve your listening skills by giving people your full attention, avoiding interrupting them before they finish speaking, taking notice of their body language, and giving feedback on what they say.
Servant leaders have the ability to look at themselves, think deeply about their behavior and emotions, and consider how they affect others. Being self-aware not only allows you to understand how your behavior and emotions affect those around you, but also align your values to fit specific situations. As a servant leader, you can become more self-aware by evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. You can ask people for feedback on your traits and learn to manage your emotion to avoid hurting others.
Healing is a trait that is related to an individual’s emotional health and wholeness. It involves supporting people both mentally and physically, especially when going through difficulties. Servant leaders help in the healing process by providing the knowledge, resources, and support that their followers need to do their job effectively. They also strive to create a healthy workplace where everyone is included and happily engaged in their roles.
Conceptualization is related to the ability of a leader to dream great dreams. Servant leaders look beyond the daily reality and focus on the bigger picture for the year. As a senior leader in a company, you are required to work through and develop effective organizational strategies. This may also include the creation of vision and mission statements for the team, and having clear job descriptions for their team members. You need to tie the long-term objectives of the organization to those of individual team members and develop a long0-term focus for everyone to stay motivated.
Being a servant leader means using persuasion instead of authority to encourage people to take action. Instead of forcing your ideas on people, you can focus on building consensus in groups where everyone supports decisions. For instance, you could use expert power to convince followers that you are an expert and make them more willing to listen to your ideas.
In leadership, stewardship is taking responsibility for the performance and action of the team. It also involves being accountable for the role that members of the team play in the organization. Regardless of whether you are a formal or informal leader in the organization, you have a responsibility for what happens in the company. You need to think about your values and those of the organization to ensure you stand for the same thing.
Being a servant leader also means leading by example and demonstrating the behaviors and values that you want to see in others. As much as you may want to serve others, you also need to have the confidence to stand up to people when they act contrary to what you believe in.
Servant leaders can predict what is likely to happen by learning from past experiences. Foresight also means the ability to identify what is happening now and the likely consequences of your action. Some of the tools you can use to improve your foresight include a PEST analysis, SWOT analysis, and Scenario analysis. It is equally important to trust your intuition and learn to understand what your instinct is telling you about an issue.
- Ability to Build a Community
Servant leaders have the capacity to build a sense of community within their organization. You can achieve this by providing an opportunity for people to interact freely and learn from each other. Social events such as team building, barbecues or lunches go a long way in encouraging people to chat informally and build lasting relationships away from their desks.
- Commitment to the Growth of Individuals
As a servant leader, you are committed to the personal and professional growth of all your team members. You can do this by conducting a needs assessment of your members to understand their developmental needs. This is a great way of launching a training program to develop your people and impart them the skills needed to do their jobs effectively. It is also important to find out their personal goals and how team projects can help them accomplish them.
How to Become a Servant Leader
Servant leadership is more of transformational leadership. However, it takes some practice to master. While the main focus is on your team members, you can take certain measures to naturally transition into a servant leader.
First, you need to build strong communication skills. This will help communicate your goals and mission clearly, and ensure that everyone is properly equipped to make wise decisions. Second, improving your listening skills will allow you to hear and consider the points of view of your team in decision-making.
Third, learn to use your influence for good. This means being able to convince your followers that your way of thinking is right. If your team is divided on an issue, they will need a point of focus to think straight. Persuasion skills and influence can help in determining a unanimous decision. Fourth, start putting others first and show them that they can trust you. Unlike autocratic leadership where the focus is on the leader, the servant leadership model is pegged on selflessness. You will need to look out for the well-being and goals of others before thinking about your own goals.
To become a servant leader, you need to approach situations from the perspective of a servant first. This means addressing the wants and requirements of others as your priority while pursuing leadership as a secondary need. This is in contrast with the leader-first perspective adopted in other leadership styles.
Identifying Primary Characteristics of Servant Leadership: Delphi Study. https://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/ijls/new/vol9iss1/1-IJLS.pdf
Servant Leadership: 11 Questions to See If People Would Consider You a Servant Leader. https://resources.kenblanchard.com/blanchard-leaderchat/servant-leadership-11-questions-to-see-if-people-would-consider-you-a-servant-leader
6 Qualities of a Servant Leader. https://www.wycliffe.org/blog/featured/6-qualities-of-a-servant-leader
Ten Principles of Servant Leadership. https://www.starkstate.edu/public/system/uploads/files/Student-Life/Servant-LeadershipPowerPoint.pdf
The Servant as Leader by Robert K. Greenleaf. http://www.ediguys.net/Robert_K_Greenleaf_The_Servant_as_Leader.pdf