What does servant leadership mean?

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy based on the belief that the most effective leaders strive to serve others, rather than to accumulate power or take control. These others may include customers, partners, co-workers and the community at large. The term was coined by management expert Robert K. A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.

While traditional leadership often involves the accumulation and exercise of power by the one at the "top of the pyramid", servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform at their best. There have been several criticisms of servant leadership. In one such critique, Sendjaya and Sarros used the same biblical account as Akuchie and claimed that it was Jesus Christ, not Greenleaf, who introduced the notion of servant leadership into everyday human affairs.

They argued that this leadership principle was so important to Christianity that it was picked up by all four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). The researchers argued that servant leaders have a particular view of themselves as stewards who are entrusted with developing and enabling followers to reach their full potential. However, Sendjaya and Sarros' research work did not propose a testable framework or distinguish between this and other leadership styles. The servant leadership style is based on the idea that leaders prioritise serving the common good.

Leaders with this style serve their team and the organisation first. They do not prioritise their own goals. Servant leadership puts the needs, growth and well-being of followers first. In other words, these types of leaders adopt a "serve first" mentality and prioritise their organisation, employees and community above themselves.

You are a servant leader when you focus on the needs of others before considering your own. It is a long-term leadership approach, rather than a technique you can adopt in specific situations. Therefore, you can use it with other leadership styles, such as transformational leadership. Servant leaders try to address the wants and needs of stakeholders first, and leadership second.

The servant leader goes beyond the transactional aspects of management and instead actively seeks to develop and align employees' sense of purpose with the company's mission. Greenleaf concluded that a new leader must be someone to whom employees or workers can relate. Scholars are identifying the characteristics of servant leadership to develop and test theories on the impact of servant leadership. Trust is a prerequisite for servant leaders, because leaders must trust that employees are worth serving and that they, and the organisation, will benefit from their service.

According to Greenleaf's observations, the servant leader approaches situations and organisations from the perspective of a servant first, seeking to lend his or her presence to respond to the needs of the organisation and others. For example, in a military environment where precision and strict protocols are needed, authoritative leadership is required. Giving employees ownership and responsibility accelerates the leadership capacity of individuals. Barter, who now heads the California-based Servant Leadership Institute, came to the concept by a circuitous route working for companies that did not follow his practices.

In addition, the organisation as a whole needs to maintain a work culture in which this type of leadership can thrive. This can be difficult for some leaders because they equate leadership with control and believe they must be responsible for everything. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your own leadership style can help you better identify which approach is best for your current role. What does it take to be a servant leader? Servant leaders share a set of common core characteristics.

Servant leadership can be considered something of a universal concept, as it has roots in both Eastern and Western cultures, according to researchers.

Jason Klingler
Jason Klingler

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