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What is Servant Leadership?

Leadership is all about being in charge, demonstrating control, telling people what to do and maintaining the aura of a ‘large and in charge’ boss, correct?  Let us explore the concept of leadership being little about the leader and more to do with those they ‘serve’.  A servant leader will focus less on placing themselves in the spotlight and more on placing the spotlight on others….

Although servant leadership is a timeless concept, Robert Greenleaf coined the term ‘Servant Leadership’ in an essay he published in 1970.  Robert wrote “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.” And the test of this is asking yourself the following questions: “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”  Traditional leadership stems from the power of just that one person at the top of pyramid read our previous blog post; ‘Are you making the mistake of being a ‘large-and-in-charge’ leader?’ which discusses the concept of taking a ‘back-seat’ in meetings.  Whereas a servant leader will share power and focuses on the growth and well-being of those they ‘serve’; ensuring they are performing as highly as possible.  The magic of servant leadership is through the art of learning to ‘let go’ and appreciating that your ability to support is much more important and significant than your ability to control.  Letting go of that overbearing element of control will enable growth and make sure innovation is not stunted – check out our previous blog post; ‘Is innovation all talk and no action?’ which discusses the importance of supporting and guiding innovation in your team.  A controlling leader signifies that there is a lack of trust and confidence in the team and their abilities.  Forbes summarises this in a metaphorical fashion by stating a controlling leader will work in a world focused on addition and subtraction, whereas a leader who learns to release control and instead places a focus on serving, will operate in a world of exponential calculations.

Servant leadership requires the ability to inspire your team, positively influence them into action, identify and deliver to their needs and encourage growth.  Check out our previous blog post on the key points of being inspirational leader; ‘Want to be an inspiring leader? Become a CHAV leader!’.  Practicing this style of leadership has many benefits for your team, yourself and your overall company…  You will increase innovation through your team members feeling confident in taking risks in new ideas and embracing challenges, because instead of taking a controlling, restricting role, you are providing them support and encouragement to be innovative.  Providing this belief in your team creates a very strong team culture which everyone feels valued and inspired to be a part of – this will in turn make them not want to leave and employee turnover rates will be lowered. If our employees feel valued and appreciated then this will make them feel more inspired in their job and in turn endeavouring to deliver a high level of customer service.  You will feel more empowered as you realise that you have a purpose beyond ‘being a manager’ and ‘accomplishing business objectives’ – you are responsible for creating and developing an inspired, driven and enthusiastic team of people.  This will make coming into work a much more meaningful and inspiring experience.

This change in focus will also require a change in what you measure as success.  You will need to focus on serving and caring for your people and their personal success, rather than just focusing on profits. Matt Tenney, author of the book “Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom” says there are 3 questions you should address to measure success as a servant leader: How much do the people I lead enjoy coming to work each day?  How much are the people I lead growing, both professionally and personally, as a result of being on my team?  How well am I empowering the people on my team to be servant leaders?

What are your thoughts on servant leadership?  Is this a concept you believe you could excel in?