I began my career working for companies that focused on consultative human resources and organization effectiveness. Over the years that followed, I have worked for many types of leaders, and have picked up key lessons along the way — primarily, what one should and should not do to be an effective leader. I recently came across the Servant Leader philosophy and guiding principles, and realized that they are closely aligned with the kind of leader that I strive to be every day.
What Is a Servant Leader?
The late Robert K. Greenleaf, author, consultant, and teacher, coined the term Servant Leader and explains it best:
The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions … The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being 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 pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
He established the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership back in 1964 and published his first essay, “The Servant as Leader,” on the topic in 1970. His teachings are standing the test of time. In some ways, they are even more important today than they were in the past.
How Does a Servant Leader Show Up?
First of all, they do just that: They show up. Every day, and without fail — even if they are failing. But showing up is only half the battle. When they show up, they provide value, guidance, and direction. It isn’t easy, but it is critically important. It is their responsibility to chart the course and make sure their original vision is correctly implemented.
Greenleaf and others have compiled lists of common characteristics of a Servant Leader. Over the years, I have built my own list, which contains qualities familiar to most, as they are simply attributes of one who is a good person:
- High Integrity
- Results Oriented
- Emotionally Intelligent
- Mentorship Inclined
These characteristics are my guide to becoming a leader others can follow. With each group member growing into his or her best potential, the collective whole is more powerful than ever.
Evolving Into a Servant Organization
A culture based on Servant Leadership, with leaders who emulate these behaviors, is more powerful than one based on traditional authoritarian leadership. Teams working together seamlessly can be more productive. As team members grow personally, they benefit from both their challenges and their accomplishments.
Leaders can enjoy the fruits of their labor in watching people thriving and succeeding. At this point in my career, I receive a tremendous amount of satisfaction from supporting others in their personal development and overall success. In the end, the organization as a whole ends up benefiting from their progress as well.
Source: Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership