What is Servant Leadership?
According to the Robert K. Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership ‘Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enrich the lives of individuals, builds better organisations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.’ Servant leadership is both a leadership philosophy and set of leadership practices.
Rather than the traditional ‘top-down’ approach, the servant leadership style turns the power pyramid upside down; shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. The philosophy is that when leaders shift their mindset and serve first, they unlock determination and initiative in those around them, resulting in higher performance and engaged, fulfilled employees.
An Introduction to Servant Leadership
Robert Greenleaf first used the term servant leadership in 1970, although the principles have been in use for more than two thousand years. Servant leaders are those who can see the bigger picture, and make a commitment to serve their own people. In a traditional organisation, employees respond to the needs of their boss. Servant leaders, however, believe that their role is to help people reach their goals, and they keep the bigger picture in mind. Rather than wanting their own needs met, servant leaders want to make a difference for others, and the outcome is the impact that this approach has on the organisation.
While servant leadership has a long history, standard business practice has been to focus on results in terms of profit and put ‘bosses’ in positions of authority and accountability. Servant leadership, however, is about heart. When leaders pay attention to what their people need and engage their hearts as well as their minds, they can get a level of commitment that is much higher than in traditionally led organisations. The results can be measured in terms of profit, but also in terms of employee engagement and commitment.
How to Become a Servant Leader
The Centre of Servant Leadership state the ten most important characteristics of servant leaders are:
- Commitment to the growth of people
- Building community
Once you’ve decided to put other people’s needs ahead of your own, you can work on developing your skills in each area.
You will serve people better when you make a deep commitment to listening intently to them and understanding what they are saying. By learning to listen more effectively and focussing fully on what is being said, take notice of their body language, avoiding the temptation to interrupt and giving feedback.
Servant leaders are skilled at understanding other people’s intentions and perspectives. You can become more empathetic by valuing others’ perspectives, putting your viewpoint aside and approaching situations with an open mind.
Servant leaders are aware of the emotional health needs of others and actively support them both physically and mentally. The process starts with ensuring your team have the knowledge, support and resources they need to do their jobs effectively so they can be happy and engaged in their roles.
Self-awareness is the ability to review your strengths, weaknesses, behaviours and how you manage your emotions. But we also need to gain feedback from others to truly understand how our actions and behaviours impact others.
Servant leaders inspire other people to take action by using persuasion rather than their authority.
Allow your team to see the bigger picture by creating mission and vision statements. Ensure every member of the team understand how their role fits with the long-term strategy and visions.
None of us can really predict the future, but we can consider what is likely to happen based on past experiences and our current situation and environment.
Stewardship is an ethic – it is about accountability and taking full responsibility for the performance of your team and the results they achieve. It is important that you lead by example and ensure your behaviours align with the company values.
9. Commitment to the Growth of People
Personal development of the entire team is a high priority for servant leaders. By understanding the developmental needs and ambitions of each individual team member, you will be able to provide the right training delivered in a way to suit them.
10. Building Community
This revolves around building a real sense of community within the company. Creating opportunities to interact in formal and informal settings encourages engagement and the sharing of ideas.
Finally, if your organisation is not exemplifying servant leadership now, consider what you would have to change for it to become a serving organisation and what are the likely benefits?