Servant Leadership – Part 1
Servant leadership sounds like an oxymoron. Our perception of leadership is too often that of the forceful business leader. Someone who is charging forward, usually creating a lot of noise, drawing a lot of attention, and holding a lot of power in their hands.
Ambition and success appear to go hand in hand with a driven single-mindedness, oblivious to others who might get in their way.
But is that all there is to leadership these days?
Inspiring Leadership That is Counter-Intuitive
Service as a leadership skill might seem counter-intuitive. We are increasingly suspicious and put-off by forceful leadership. We may follow a leader like that out of necessity, perhaps unaware that there is an alternative, even out of fear of the consequences. But it is not a model that inspires or motivates us. Leadership that isn’t willing to serve those around it, is self-serving and makes no room for anyone else.
People like Richard Branson or Barack Obama stand out because their style is so different. Their leadership seems to be held more loosely. They appear to create momentum and inspire change almost by accident. They seem willing to elevate those around them – as Branson’s recent letter to his Virgin America employees demonstrated – instead of just using other people to climb higher than they have before.
Healthy Leadership That Is High-Performing
So what should we look for in a good leader? And how could we practice a style of leadership that’s healthy for us and those around us – without sacrificing the need for productivity and performance?
Servant leadership is an undervalued practice. It benefits the person leading, as much as those being led. It’s not lacking in drive or vision. It’s not an unnecessary focus on people’s emotional needs or an abdication of corporate responsibility.
Servant leadership is healthy and high-performing.
Sacrificial Leadership That Is Purposeful
Every team serves something. Bob Dylan caught the essence of that in his song by the same name – “Gotta Serve Somebody” –
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
For many it may be a pay-check or promotion, or out of fear of losing a job, letting someone down, or looking terrible. In the most effective companies it’s about serving the overriding purpose of the organisation, or project, without sacrificing the wellbeing of its employees.
So whilst the team’s focus is on accomplishing that purpose, the leader’s goal is on serving the team, so that they can fulfil that purpose. It’s not a leadership style that gets things done through criticism and cajoling. But one that calls the team back to its purpose and is consistently mindful of what they need in order to get the job done.
Three Characteristics of Servant Leadership
Leadership looks different depending on personality types or position. However servant leaders are always:
Leadership isn’t something that appears overnight. It’s a skill that is invested in, perhaps long before the role or responsibilities demand it. Good leadership is as much about developing resilience as it is about vision, communication and strategic planning. Knowing your strengths and limitations leads to confidence in yourself and those around you.
Someone who shows others how to do something well is as much a leader, if not more so, than someone who merely tells them what to do. It’s much easier to spout knowledge than to put it into practice yourself.
However the work of a leader is first internal, developing self-awareness – what we might call emotional intelligence – and a willingness to listen and learn. From this confidence grows.
It’s surprising how easy it is to miss what’s going on around us. However, listening is a key leadership skill in any organisation. It doesn’t have to mean endless conversations. But involves developing an ear for what’s unspoken and the ability to see what the team might really need. So that you can tailor your response accordingly.
An engaged leader knows intuitively when a team needs more direction. And when to take a step back. When someone needs gentle encouragement. Or when it’s time for a difficult conversation. Listening to and engaging with your team communicates value and enables you to identify what the challenges might be before these become problems.
Servant leadership is about delegation. However, many teams find themselves floundering when tasks have been delegated to the wrong person or in the wrong way. What can overwhelm one person, can inhibit another, by failing to equip the team for the task.
A leader who empowers their team well is able to give away responsibilities that fit a person’s skill-set, setting them up to succeed. Thereby empowering them to fulfil their role within the team. This results in high levels of engagement and success for everyone.
Become a Servant Leader
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