Servant leaders serve their followers by meeting their needs and teaching them to become leaders themselves in order to continue to pass on this tradition-like style of leadership. By enabling followers to become leaders and providing them with the skills and tools to do so, a sense of community and common good emerges. Care used to be an individual responsibility, but now most care is delivered through institutions or organisations that can be complex, large, impersonal, sometimes incompetent and even corrupt. Collectively, however, organisations have the power to change the world.
To create a better, fairer and more caring society, with more opportunities for people, we need to increase the service capacity of our organisations. We need to improve their service performance by examining their operations and the people who operate in them. Organisations have the power to change society, but first we must build capacity, develop people and give servant leadership the climate to thrive. I often think of how a community of any kind empowers others to serve for a cause, a crisis, a family in need or to celebrate.
One of the main principles of a servant leader is to help create a sense of community among people. Why is this important and why now? The answers lie in the genuine belief that people thrive in community, and that when they serve collectively, the impact is significant. Servant leadership is a style based on the desire to serve and give to your community. By putting the needs of others first, you empower people to be their best.
When community members see your passion and commitment through your actions, they want to be connected to you. Servant leadership goes against the belief that leadership is defined as hierarchical, patriarchal and related to wealth or status. Instead, as the name suggests, it focuses on serving others to help them grow, often without the title or recognition that comes with many leadership roles. Robert Greenleaf, the originator of servant leadership theory, chose the name because it is contradictory and the polar opposite of typical leadership theories.
Servant leaders build community among organisations, Servant leaders value collaboration. They refuse to be so greedy for profit that they forget to be prophets of industry, innovation and inspiration. Last week, I read that Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, announced that the company would "clear the way for the creation of compelling electric vehicles by not enforcing its patents". I don't know if that move qualifies Musk as a "servant leader" or not, but I think it certainly goes a long way.
As a servant leader, you are a servant first: you focus on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. You acknowledge the views of others, give them the support they need to achieve their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions when necessary, and build a sense of community within your team. This leads to greater commitment, more trust and stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders. It can also lead to greater innovation.
So imagine a community where servant leaders are the norm, not the exception. A community where companies, large and small, are led by servants. It is a community where if someone, employee or not, struggles with anger issues, they will be helped by a servant leader to become whole again. Or if a person suffers from low self-esteem, a servant leader would reach out to help them recover.
Better yet, imagine a community in which servant leaders are everywhere, regardless of position. Because servant leadership is based on influence, not power, leaders are not tied to titles or organisational charts. In this community, everyone helps to heal others. It is the ultimate in healing, stewardship and true community building.
What power would this kind of community have? What impact would it have on society? Who wants to help set it in motion? It should come as no surprise that servant leadership has become one of the most popular leadership styles in the modern workplace. Many see servant leadership as a growth activity because they need to relearn their vision of leadership. I read and hear a lot about the characteristics of servant leaders, how servant leaders care about their followers first and the business second (understanding that when people are happy and healthy, so are businesses), and how servant leadership positively impacts the bottom line. Although servant leadership has been proven to be an exceptionally effective leadership style, the first challenge is the negative connotation implied by the name.
It is a long-term approach to leadership, rather than a technique that can be adopted in specific situations. Originally, Greenleaf conceived the idea to benefit the organisation, so that everyone could come together on common ground, from entry-level employees to middle management and all the way up to senior management. However, servant leadership is problematic in hierarchical and autocratic cultures where managers and leaders are expected to make all the decisions. Demonstrate servant leadership by modelling the kind of attitude and behaviour you want others to have in the face of crisis - one of calmness, sharing, gratitude and compassion for others.
To improve your listening skills, give people your full attention, pay attention to their body language, avoid interrupting them before they finish speaking, and give feedback on what they say. As a servant leader, this step is about building trust and letting your followers know that you are their equal. The servant leadership community needs you; if you are not actively participating now, consider finding your place.