I am at that point in my life and career as a servant leader. That I find myself defending this style of leadership and mindset more and more often. There are many definitions of servant leadership, and during this article, I will try and show how I see it along with how I behave.
For me, one of the most notable servant leaders is Sir Richard Branson. One of his quotes is:
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
This is where some bad managers fail. Shouting and screaming at their employees will not only disengage them but also push them into planning how to throw you under the bus to get rid of you.
What it means to be a servant leader
A lesson that everyone who has served in the military learns very quickly. Especially new officers. Is that if you protect your men, your men will protect you. If you don’t protect them, then you will find yourself alone and vulnerable very quickly.
My job as a leader is to give my team everything in my power to enable them to achieve the goals I or the company have set for them. I will also build a buffer to ensure they are protected from the management above my level.
Robert K. Greenleaf, in the 1970s, wrote an essay that said:
“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 on the growth of the team and people within their community.
What are the qualities of a servant leader?
According to Larry C. Spears, former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Centre for servant leadership, these are the ten most important characteristics of servant leaders.
- Listening, you’ll serve people better when you make a deep commitment to listening intently to them and understanding what they’re saying.
- Servant leaders strive to understand other people’s intentions and perspectives with empathy.
- Healing, this characteristic relates to people’s emotional health and “wholeness” and involves supporting them both physically and mentally.
- Awareness, self-awareness is the ability to look at yourself, think deeply about your emotions and behaviour, and consider how they affect the people around you
- Persuasion, servant leaders use persuasion rather than their authority to encourage people to take action.
- Conceptualisation, this characteristic relates to your ability to “dream great dreams” so that you look beyond day-to-day realities to the bigger picture.
- Foresight is when you can predict what’s likely to happen in the future by learning from past experiences, identifying what’s happening now, and understanding the consequences of your decisions.
- Stewardship, Stewardship is about taking responsibility for the actions and performance of your team and being accountable for the role team members play in your organisation.
What is a servant leader’s mindset?
As a servant leader, you need to be focused on the needs of your team and how you can help them succeed and do their best work. This takes time and effort because you need to get to know them. Becoming a servant leader is a long-term plan due to the amount of work it takes.
You get to know each member of the team, their thoughts and motivations. Their strengths and weaknesses. To some extent, even understanding their personal situation as home. You need to be able to recognise small changes in personality and mood.
The team member who has problems at home will try to come and work without it affecting them, but we all know this is sometimes impossible. As a leader, you need to see this and be able to help “fix” the problem.
You may not be able to make the problem go away but you can help them work out a way forward and then support them with this process.
Get this right and get the team to trust you. They will not only come to you without prompting for help but will come together as a team, protect each other and protect you as their leader.
What is the main goal of a servant leader?
As far as I can see, the goal of any servant leader should be to get his team to work hard for them. Not because they have to or because they fear consequences but because they want to. I have recently taken on another team. I retained my current team, who I believe work hard for me because they want to.
I am now putting in the effort to change the mindset of my new team members, who historically see management as the enemy. To be perfectly honest, I can not blame them.
The UK and the current pandemic have seen employees suffer from weak managers who bully from behind a keyboard. Micromanagers who do not possess the intellect or ability of their team but manage to achieve promotion by knowing the right person.
Ultimately you look to achieve leadership not through power but through perceived authority.
Look around your workplace, pay attention to the supervisors and managers and you will spot the servant leaders. Generally, they are the ones with a happy, productive team. Unfortunately, a university degree cannot give you these skills and again, look for the graduate managers just finding their feet. Some will be trying to bully their way to the top, but occasionally, you will spot a natural servant leader.