What does it mean to be a service leader in the military?

The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform at their best. Sergeants are the leaders of the enlisted branch of the army. To be a servant-leader you have to "serve those you lead". In practice, this means trying to make things easy for your subordinates, making sure you take care of their needs and setting them up for success.

As a servant leader you have to make personal sacrifices for the betterment of your subordinates. This may seem contradictory to what people perceive as normal military leadership. In reality, it is an integral part of a well-maintained force. All members of Samit's team know that he is there for them.

He checks in with them often to see how they are doing, and helps them develop the skills they need to advance in their careers, even if it means they may change positions. By contrast, the image of a military leader may invoke visions of dominance, ruthlessness, defiant confidence, courage and strength, but conversely, not pure servitude. Junior leaders do not consider charismatic, transformational or transactional leaders to be effective; rather, the pinnacle of a good leader is defined by his or her ability to serve subordinates. When leaders change their mindset and serve first, they unlock the purpose and ingenuity of those around them, which translates into higher performance and engaged, satisfied employees.

In short, like Blanchard's Situational Leadership model, it is the style that best addresses the mission and people that is as dynamic as leadership itself. Leadership theorists such as Patterson have argued for and attempted to expand Greenleaf's definition by adding attributes of servant leadership. If toxic leadership is at one end of the leadership continuum and the servant leader at the other, it is logical that one would actively seek to identify or embody the characteristics of servant leadership. There are essential characteristics in the servant leader concept, but as a primary leadership maxim, it is not conducive to that of a good or great military leader.

Moreover, it does not address how this leadership style will lead to the accomplishment of the mission at hand. Once I started my first business, I was in a privileged position to be a servant leader to my own employees. It is a long-term approach to leadership, rather than a technique that can be adopted in specific situations. On reflection, both academic experience and practice have shown us that most leaders either see themselves as a combination of servant leader or exhibit these traits.

Servant leadership inverts the power pyramid; instead of people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve people. It is a complement to democratic leadership styles and has similarities to transformational leadership - which is often the most effective style in business situations - and to Level 5 leadership, in which leaders demonstrate humility in the way they work. In his statement, Greenleaf seems to define servant leadership with the repetitive use of "servant" and also does not offer a concrete definition.

Jason Klingler
Jason Klingler

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