What Is Servant Leadership?

What Is Servant Leadership?

What Is Servant Leadership?

Leadership is one of the most revered traits that an individual can possess.

Every great organization needs a great leader. But the best leadership method has long been debated.

Here, we take a closer look at servant leadership.

Individuals and corporations have followed different leadership methods over the years.

For example, Walt Disney followed a participative leadership model, and Britain's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was known for her effective authoritative leadership.

A less common management strategy in modern society, is the servant leadership model. Here, we’ll give you a greater understanding of what it is and whether or not it’s the right approach for your business.

What Is Servant Leadership?

The servant leadership definition is where you actively engage and work with members from all levels in an organization.

It is about putting your team above you, thereby announcing that you will be there for your team at all times.

The term comes from the idea that you are serving your team, not your team serving you. As a servant leader, you make sure that the people learn and grow with you.

This increases the team's enthusiasm and motivation, thereby, nurturing productivity.

Today, most organizations follow a pyramid level of management where the leaders exercise power and dictate how the work is done.

A servant leader shares their power and works hands-on with their team.

Placing the needs of the people first ensures more coherence within the group.

This further leads to increased and innovative discussions. In many ways, it’s the polar opposite to autocratic leadership.

While this practice has been in use for a long time, Robert K. Greenleaf was the first person to mention the concept of servant leadership.

Greenleaf felt that the authoritarian system of leadership model in American institutions was ineffective and not in the best interests of a united workplace.

After his early retirement in 1964, he extensively researched management and development for nearly thirty years.

He firmly believed in the idea of a servant being the leader and introduced the term 'servant leadership' in his essay The Servant as Leader.

The paper was later expanded into a book and it led to the commencement of the Servant Leadership Movement.

Greenleaf also established the Center for Applied Ethics, later named the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

He additionally served as a consultant to prominent educational institutions for over 25 years. The center has actively continued Greenleaf's work after his death in 1990.

Today, his ideology of a servant leader has been included in the curriculum of universities, and many companies have adopted his philosophy.

Characteristics of a Servant Leader

A servant leader has to have the mentality of not issuing orders from the comfort of their desk. Instead, they provide every worker with the equal opportunity they deserve and sweat it out with them.

Therefore, a servant leader works as a unit and take equivalent responsibility with everyone.

It is also much more than that. Larry C. Spears, the former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, wrote about mastering 10 principles that differentiate a servant leader from the others.

These 10 principles are:

1. Listening

One of the essential attributes for a servant leader is paying attention to what is being said and what is not being said.

A servant leader needs to constantly keep their ears open to reflect on what is happening within the team and how they can make things better.

A conscious effort to actively listen to what others have to say enables the group to have healthier conversations and ultimately make better decisions.

Good listening is also the symbol of a successful communicator.

2. Empathy

A servant leader should be able to understand the feelings of others and empathize with them. This is one of the most important interpersonal skills and promotes a productive relationship.

The fear of failure vanishes as the others will not be the only ones taking the blame.

Many organizations today concentrate only on meeting their goals without a second thought about their employees.

Fostering empathy in an organization takes time; however, once the employees are on track with their servant leader, their goals are met easily by an environment of open communication and responsive feedback.

3. Healing

Feeling trusted and safe is critical for the performance of the team as a whole.

Irrespective of an employee's position, a servant leader should support them physically and mentally.

Communicating and authorizing practices that help their associates' mental and emotional well-being will garner significant admiration and improve relationships.

This positively affects the employees' happiness, increases their performance and drives better results for the group.

4. Awareness

Developing a general understanding of the environment significantly benefits individual and organizational performance.

A servant leader should be able to assess the team and make on-spot decisions that are profitable for everyone.

Being self-aware of what is expected from them has a notable impact on the morale of the group.

Knowing what words and actions to use at an appropriate time help in conveying the purpose directly.

Studying their own strengths and weaknesses and having a command over one's emotions go a long way in managing others' emotional intelligence and behaviour.

5. Persuasion

While making decisions as a higher authority is irrefutable, a servant leader is expected to come to conclusions by considering everyone's opinion.

They use persuasion as a leadership skill to win the minds and hearts of their fellow workers instead of authority.

Convincing everyone and inducing a similar mindset is no simple feat. With the arrival of many conversation winning techniques, servant leaders persuade others of their plans and go through with the actions.

It is important to remember that a servant leader listens to his team, acknowledges suggestions and is flexible to changes.

6. Conceptualization

Mr Greenleaf gave a high level of importance to this aspect of a servant leader. Placing long-term objectives help to establish proper roles for everyone in the team.

A servant leader needs to listen, show awareness and persuade their group to strive for a common goal.

What Is Servant Leadership: Definition and Examples
What Is Servant Leadership: Definition and Examples

Striking a balance between the daily goals and long-term goals forms an essential discipline of this characteristic.

They also remember to carry out the long-term plans without getting caught in the present.

7. Foresight

This trait enables a servant leader to learn from the decisions made in the past use that knowledge to make better decisions.

Preparedness distinguishes leaders from the rest of the crowd and having a clear vision is one of the most important leadership principles.

The decisions that a servant leader takes should consider all likely obstacles and endure through them. They do not steer into the future blindly but are ready for all challenges.

Intuition is another vital characteristic that a servant leader focuses on while assessing a decision.

8. Stewardship

Stewardship is about taking responsibility for the performances of the team. In most institutions today, top-tier officials make decisions, and the employees are supposed to achieve them.

However, with a servant leader, everyone can discuss and come to a resolution.

By serving the needs of others, a servant leader can come to conclusions that are acceptable to everyone. Problems arise no matter how powerful the communication is within and beyond the team.

What matters is how a servant leader is able to overcome them. Understanding the importance of addressing the problems before moving on to the next step is necessary for the team's performance.

Factors listed above like communication, listening, empathy and foresight become vital for the success of the process.

9. Commitment to the Growth of People

Servant leaders set their personal goals aside and prioritize the development of themselves and their team as a whole. They analyze what each member needs and help them do their job effectively.

Investing time in personally getting to know their workforce and arranging for their needs ensures the team's overall growth.

It also includes encouraging members to suggest changes, make important decisions and handle additional duties.

10. Building Community

Servant leaders help their associates improve performance and transform them into leaders in the process.

Teamwork is a critical trait that all servant leaders value.

They ensure that the team's integrity is maintained and that no fingers are pointed when things go downhill.

Trust and respect among each other build an ever-lasting and unbreakable bond.

Servant Leadership Examples

All these qualities of a servant leader must translate into your workspace. It is not something you can maintain a checklist of. Instead, it can only be gained through practice and expertise.

Imagine a co-worker fails to meet a deadline. A servant leader will sit with them and understand the reason for the delay: they will empathize and learn what is required and get it for them.

It also goes the other way round. A servant leader seeks active feedback and analyzes the gained wisdom.

This cultivates a positive work culture where constructive criticism is exercised freely.

Marriott International, the American multi-national company, runs on a similar philosophy. It believes that when the employees are taken care of, the customers are satisfied.

Fred Smith started his company FedEx in 1971. He believed that when people are placed first, they will provide high service, and the profits will automatically follow. It remains competitive to this day.

When Does Servant Leadership Work?

So, why is the servant leadership strategy so successful, and does it have any shortcomings?

Firstly, take a look at why servant leadership works.

A Servant Leader Can Get the Best Out of Everyone

Servant leadership works because all the members of the organization feel equally valued.

When a servant leader encourages the opinion or idea of his associates, they believe their voice matters. They endeavour to make good decisions to be put forward.

People have a lot of talent but many fail to make use of it.

A servant leader is able to tap into the vast potential buried inside a person that they are unaware of by breaking down the traditional chain of command.

Positive Work Environment

Servant leaders display humility amongst their workforce. They do not command to get the work done but progress along with the team and inspire everybody.

This sends a message of trust and authenticity, and the team aspires to put in their all.

Increases Engagement From the Workforce

The team members do not shy away from responsibilities and are motivated to get on their feet. They feel supported that the servant leader will be there to oversee and work with them.

This makes them give their best and boosts the morale of the organization.

Encourages Innovation and Creativity

When people come together and are open to others' ideas with honest communication, it leads to fascinating thought processes.

Everyone starts thinking about what they can contribute to the team, and innovative approaches evolve with a servant leader at the helm.

When Servant Leadership Doesn’t Work

  • While it may seem achievable on paper, it is difficult to get the idea across to an organization and implement it

  • It becomes challenging to achieve goals even if one team member finds it difficult to make decisions with limited knowledge of the organization's business

  • Some perceive servant leaders as weak and ineffective. They wrongly understand that these leaders are dependent on their team for ideas or to take a call

  • Decisions now take longer to reach an agreement as everyone might not agree with the ideas put forward

  • Different leadership methods by hierarchical enterprises might confuse the members of the institution

  • The modern definition of a leader has drastically changed, and training today's leaders to a servant leader requires a big effort

Final Thoughts

Servant leadership is undoubtedly one of the most underused leadership styles in today's society. It is not necessary that only leaders or administrators at influential positions use this method.

Anybody at any level in an organization can follow the 10 principles of a servant leader and produce better results in their workplace.

Practice your communication skills, develop self-awareness and accept constructive criticism for your work. You slowly build a community around you that respects and elevates you to a higher status when you practice these techniques.


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