What is servant leadership not?

Servant leadership is not about acquiring power or gaining control over others. The assumption underlying each of these myths is that organisational members only serve their own interests. What is 'servant leadership' and how can it make you a better leader? Often in life and at work, we focus on tasks rather than people. Left unchecked, this "results first, team second" mentality can lead to low morale and even lower performance.

However, if you lead from the ground up and serve your team, you will end up with a group of high performing individuals. So how can you leverage servant leadership and lead your people effectively? Servant leadership can work in many different environments. It varies from revenue-focused sales environments to non-profit organisations aimed at promoting social good. Servant leadership is not a leadership style or technique as such.

Rather, it is a form of behaviour that is adopted over the long term. It is a complement to democratic leadership styles and has similarities with transformational leadership - which is often the most effective style in business situations - and level 5 leadership, where leaders demonstrate humility in the way they work. Remember that servant leadership is about focusing on the needs of others, not their feelings. Do not avoid making unpopular decisions or giving team members negative feedback when this is necessary.

The premise of servant leadership is based on an unconventional organisational structure in which employees are at the top, followed by managers, executives, the CEO and then the board of directors. Servant leadership is not the leadership style for leaders who thrive on having power or rely on their position to control others. Although leaders are not at the top of the pyramid, they still have the responsibility to lead, guide and make decisions, but from the mindset and actions of a servant. Servant leaders understand that true leaders do not seek power, but seek to empower.

If goals are not met, the servant leader will look inward to determine what could have been done better to help employees achieve those goals. Servant leadership is about prioritising people over profits. With this in mind, how do servant leaders successfully balance empowerment and organisational effectiveness without the organisation suffering? Experts say that, to reap these rewards, several things have to happen. Servant leadership ultimately begins with a selfless mindset.

If you have selfish motivations, you're not going to be a good servant leader. It has to be less about you, says Falotico. In addition, the organisation as a whole must maintain a work culture in which this type of leadership can thrive. Finally, there are behaviours that servant leaders themselves must practice regularly.

As leaders, we can say what we want, but we will be judged by our behaviour, says Barter. And for the servant leader, behaviour is not just what you do, but how you do it. Most examples that explain servant leadership are not only difficult, but impossible to achieve. Take the example of Jesus Christ, an example far beyond human reach.

A culture under this type of leadership delivers transformational results because employees are coached, empowered and held accountable to ensure that goals are met to fulfil the vision. The US delivery company, founded in 1971 by Fred Smith, developed a servant leader culture, which allowed the company to thrive and grow accordingly. Servant means to serve someone who performs some tasks for the benefit of a person, usually of higher rank. Servant leadership may not be the right configuration for every organisation, but in many cases, the pros outweigh the cons if the company culture can support the changes in leadership style.

I firmly believe that leadership needs not only to listen to its own advice but, more importantly, to practice the things it says. If you have an organisation with true servant leadership, when you talk to a frontline person, you are talking to an eagle because they are allowed to bring their brain to work. As a servant leader, you are a servant first: you focus on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. Most of the terms used to describe servant leadership in the literature are masculine, even though the model advocates a genderless approach to leadership.

Servant leaders understand that building an environment of authenticity and trust is vital to cultivating and thriving in a servant culture. Trust is a prerequisite for servant leaders, as they must trust that employees are worth serving, and that they, and the organisation, will benefit from their service. Service leaders are committed to the personal and professional development of all members of their teams. Indeed, in many ways, encouragement is the hallmark expression of a servant leader, and it is a tremendously powerful tool, experts say.

The synthesis of servant and leader is an oxymoron that brings about transformational change in organisations. In practice, Southwest Airlines, under the leadership of its founder Herb Kelleher, is often cited as the model servant leadership corporation. This approach is often referred to as servant leadership because leaders see themselves as serving - rather than commanding - the people around them.

Jason Klingler
Jason Klingler

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