What is servant leadership 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 military. Now that we have Greenleaf's definition in mind, let's discuss what military scholars have to say about this concept. Griffing, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, NCO Academy, defines servant leadership as leaders who "put aside their egos and try to put the needs of others first in order to accomplish the mission and improve the organization (Griffing, n, d.).

To be a servant leader is to "serve those you lead". In practice, this means trying to make things easier 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. The US Army increasingly relies on a more capable and skilled Soldier in the face of an ambiguous enemy. The Soldier is the US Army's most indispensable weapon. Servant leaders put their followers first and empower them by being attentive to their concerns and their personal and professional growth.

Leaders must go beyond achieving immediate results through mission accomplishment and improve the organisation by focusing on the Army's future leaders. This thesis seeks to understand the impact of servant leadership on organisational effectiveness, culture and climate through the study of three leadership case studies. U.S. Army senior leaders, mission command doctrine, and leadership doctrine lay the foundation for building servant leadership behaviours in practical application within units at the organisational level.

Army culture provides the existing conditions necessary for the servant leadership model to succeed. The proper use of servant leader behaviour empowers soldiers and enhances the long-term success of the organisation. I also really liked his breakdown of why servant leadership might work, but also might not work for the military. To note, the military and other organisations have co-opted and created their own definition of what it means to be a servant leader.

To note, those who exhibit servant leadership characteristics seek to be at the top of any leadership continuum. While this type of leader exists in the military, there are a greater number of servant leaders than one would expect in the service. Servant leadership is a particular style of leadership in which the leader serves others and puts their needs first in a humble approach to achieving collective goals. Specifically, in the military, a leader's approach is more limited to a continuum that shows only two extremes: a leader is considered either servant or toxic.

The study did not determine a relationship between leadership, the servant leadership model, subordinate dynamics and successful mission execution. There are essential characteristics to the servant leader concept, but as a primary leadership maxim, it does not lead to that of a good or great military leader. As leadership practitioners, it is often overwhelming to keep up with the latest conversations about leadership philosophies. Servant leadership is about understanding the needs of others, both in the chain and in the organisation, being available at the right level and being mentally prepared to serve everyone else.

It could be argued that this definition is intended to place the subordinate as the greater being and therefore the needs of the team outweigh those of the organisation or its leadership. The follower must be able to collaborate and have the ability to maintain good relationships with others, both up and down the leadership chain.

Jason Klingler
Jason Klingler

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