“If serving is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you” (Anon)

The team members that know that their leader is there for them, cares for them, checks in to see how each one is coping and, furthermore, develops the skills they need to advance their careers are team members who will be loyal no matter the circumstances or pressures that they are facing. Such ‘privileged’ team members respond well to this demonstrated ‘servanthood’ leadership philosophy and do their utmost to execute goals and achieve required results. I say ‘privileged’, as many employees never experience a caring leadership approach – these staff members find themselves regarded as a means to organisational or leadership ends or simply as yet another cog in the production gearbox of the business. Not feeling truly valued, they turn up for work disheartened, disconnected and disempowered.

While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In the essay, Greenleaf noted that the servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and wellbeing of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the top of the organisational pyramid, servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform to the best of their abilities. Servant leadership is an approach, philosophy or attitude that recognises value in others and seeks to grow others to make them even better. Skip Prichard put it like this: “Servant leaders lead with others in mind”.

Prichard notes nine qualities of servant leaders, perhaps worth repeating here (comments mine) – the servant-leader is one who:

  1. Values diverse opinions – the opinions and ideas of all should be sought, examined and the good ideas implemented. Everyone has a genuine contribution to make and this should be encouraged.
  2. Cultivates a culture of trust – the leader must model the company values, respect the dignity of all employees and act responsibly.
  3. Develops other leaders – this is not only a succession issue, but also a community initiative. It provides opportunities for development and the environment in which to practice learnt skills.
  4. Helps people with life issues – acquiring life-skills to enable coping with the complexity and challenges of life is a necessity. The organisation can play a valuable part in providing some of these abilities.
  5. Encourages – the leader should be creating a supportive environment which recognises effort, contribution and successes.
  6. Sells instead of tells – the leader becomes a facilitator of arriving at solutions, giving employees room to think for themselves and the environment to be innovative when faced with challenges.
  7. Thinks “you”, not “me” – selflessness expressed to benefit employees. This does not refer to being a doormat, but rather an attitude of “you matter”.
  8. Thinks long-term – a trade-off between the urgency of today versus that of which is important for tomorrow, making sure leaders are developed for the next generation.
  9. Acts with humility – setting an example of service, the leader behaves in a way that others can follow.

I want to add another:

  1. Imparts relevant and timely information – communicates enough specific information to keep all employees in the loop as to how well we are doing, where we need to improve and how we are benefitting our clients. Secretive leadership styles don’t engender trust.

Servant leadership is an approach – it expresses itself in the philosophy and practice of leading with others in mind. It focuses on serving followers for their own good, not just for the good of the organisation and has as its concern the success of all stakeholders, including those who are the least privileged.

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