Lead to assist, not control: that’s a Servant Leader. These leaders aim at facilitating the abilities of other rather than exercising their power outright. To a certain extent, they are background leaders who mediate the workplace rather than control it.
Servant Leadership is a leadership concept introduced by Robert K. Greanleaf in 1970. Today, we’re going to break down this leadership style into a simple and easy-to-digest form, while recognizing that a mere blog post is unlikely to do justice to this extensive and deeply explored theory.
Key Characteristics of Servant Leadership
1) Shared power
Servant Leadership is participative in nature and fairly similar to Democratic Leadership. Instead of having the leader call the shots, power is shared with employees and followers. The logic behind this is that the people on the ground actually executing the work, such as interacting with customers, would have a better understanding of what needs to be done. Thus, the leader should delegate decision making to followers. Rather than having the final say, the leader merely mediates discussions to ensure things progress smoothly.
Listening skills play an important role in the life of a Servant Leader. These leaders have to take into account the angles of various employees in order to facilitate a collective decision. Being able to see the bigger picture, also known as conceptualization, is necessary in order to ensure employees don’t overlook long term goals and needs. Persuasive skills come into play when mediating discussions and convincing employees to take into account the leader’s angle. Opinions are never forced on others, merely discussed and agreed upon.
2) People first
Servant Leadership is largely developmental. Rather than build up their own base of power, Servant Leaders lead with the intent of developing and growing their followers. The needs of others are put first. These leaders serve their workers rather than the converse. Workers are seen as independent minds, each with something to contribute. The leader’s function is to connect these minds together in order to come up with a focused workplace. This would explain why Servant Leaders are seen as facilitators. It is in the best interest of the workplace to support and develop these minds; thus the Servant Leader plays a supporting role to guide employees.
Is Servant Leadership Effective?
By developing employees through support rather than command, Servant Leadership allows leaders to tap into the true abilities of an individual. In certain cases, followers are grown into leaders and they in turn seek to serve. These new leaders are specifically good at understanding the situation on the ground, given that they too are the product of working on the ground. Companies are increasingly adapting Servant Leadership as their guiding principle given these results.
On a bigger scale, a healthier corporate culture is put in place. When focus is taken away from a personal rush to rise ranks and instead put into nurturing others and being nurtured in return, the self-serving corporate culture can be countered. Similarly, new leaders are created with the idea that self-progress comes through helping others, not exploiting them.
As with all leadership styles that focus on development, Servant Leadership requires long term dedication. Instant results don’t exist and leaders that do not intend to invest time in it shouldn’t expect great results.