Servant Leadership

Last week we discussed “Collaborative Management,” an emerging philosophy that describes various management techniques utilized to promote a sense of oneness and teamwork within a business. This style combines strengths across team members in order to offset the weaknesses. It operates to improve efficiencies within all company operations, resulting in positive impacts to employee morale, companies’ supplier partnerships; and this in turn creates a favorable opinion of the company by customers and other stakeholders.

Today we will take up “Servant Leadership,” which together with “Collaborative Management,” forms a sturdy and enduring foundation upon which to build your successful business.

The term is taken from a 1970 essay entitled “The Servant as Leader,” written by Robert K. Greenleaf. Those who have studied this leadership style agree the following are central tenets to the management technique:

  1. Listening to others to learn from them, genuinely seeking as many good ideas as possible from every employee with a viewpoint.
  2. Understanding these viewpoints and the feelings of others, and responding accordingly, politely, with due respect and consideration; appreciating each person for their unique emotional and spiritual well being. If you lack faith, others will be unfaithful to you.
  3. A keen self-awareness of the leader’s own weaknesses, not just strengths, along with the ability to keep his or her own feelings in check.
  4. Honesty, high integrity and character, a good steward of the company’s assets, someone who earns high trust.
  5. Ability to persuade as he or she works toward a consensus solution for any given problem.
  6. Visionary that can discern and forecast trends in order to course correct the ship with plenty of lead-time to make long-term strategic and structural changes and adjustments.

The traditional leadership styles going back to the advent of the Industrial Era, focused on traits, behavioral styles, situational and functional, leaving no room for “Servant Leadership,” although the “Participative Leadership” style is not entirely dissimilar to “Servant Leadership. The evolved American company is generally autocratic, and hierarchical. These companies attempt to clearly structure and define tasks, keeping employees that are able to produce according to measured expectations of management. To an employee this seems to objectify him or her, as no different than a machine, just another asset that once depleted needs replacing. These employees quickly adjust their loyalties to themselves and are continuously looking for new jobs that appear to offer more in terms of compensation and environment.

The servant leaders, on the other hand, carefully select people and attempt to keep them. They do so by addressing aspects of humanity that results in appreciation from the workforce. If something needs to be changed, management makes every sincere attempt to see how (not if) the change can be implemented. Along these lines the servant leader builds lasting, loyal partner relationships with their suppliers. The net result is that the company ends up with loyal employees and suppliers who are all in this for the long haul. Consequently, subject matter expertise gets honed over the many years and the loyalty for the two groups ensure customers get looked after in the manner you hope. Hiring costs, training, turnover, customer dissatisfaction all decline. Innovative and creative ideas, productive and fulfilled employees, all advance.

But you cannot simply decide to ‘become’ a servant leader. It must first be in your heart to do so. You must genuinely enjoy the company and diversity of people; and you need a heart to serve, not to be held in high esteem and the enjoyment of exercising your power. How can you tell if a leader is a servant leader? Examine the results – Are those being served growing instead of bitter and discontented? Are they making the contributions you know they can make, and getting better at doing so over the years? Are they truly autonomous, or are they trying to feign autonomy because their boss demands autonomy? And do they grow into servant leaders themselves?

In summary, if you truly believe you have the personality and the heart to be a servant leader, a vision for the business, and a love of people to help you to get there, by all means this is your leadership style and model. You will be encouraging, supporting and enabling your team members to reach their highest capabilities and potential. You will be delegating responsibility, engaging in participative decision-making.

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. And whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’” Mark 10:42-45


2 thoughts on “Servant Leadership

  1. Thanks Rod! I believe this topic to be key as we deal with these somewhat challenging times. Keep up the Good Work! Timbo

  2. Rodd. I really loved this piece. The definition of Servant Leadership is on target. I will be sharing this with my colleagues. Thanks! Tracey

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