The term servant leadership is attributed to an essay written by Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990) in 1970. The essay was entitled “The Servant as Leader” and stemmed from concerns over the merits of a centralized organizational structure as a management style to successfully run organizations. This belief was undoubtedly formed in part while working at AT&T and evolved when he founded the Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership in 1964. This article focuses on this type of leadership and as you read through the article, identify areas in the way you lead where you may need to embrace this way of leadership. I will unpack the servant leadership style by discussing the pillars that make up this leadership style.
Listening – Traditionally, leaders have been valued for their communication and decision-making skills. However, a Servant-leader must reinforce these important skills by making a deep commitment to listening intently to others. A Servant-leader should seek to identify and clarify the will of a group. They seek to listen receptively to what is being said (and not said). Listening also encompasses getting in touch with one’s inner voice and seeking to understand what one’s body, spirit, and mind are communicating.
Empathize – Servant-leadership is also about striving to understand and empathize with others. Subordinates need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirit. One must assume the good intentions of co-workers and not reject them as people, even when forced to reject their behavior or performance.
Healing – Learning to heal is a powerful force for transformation and integration. One of the great strengths of servant-leadership is the potential for healing one’s self and others. In “The Servant as Leader”, Greenleaf writes, “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between the servant-leader and the one being led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something that they have.”
Awareness – General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader. Committing to foster awareness can be scary. As Greenleaf observed, “Awareness is not a giver of solace – it’s just the opposite. Servant leaders are not seekers of solace. They have their inner security.”
Persuasion – A Servant-leader relies on persuasion, rather than positional authority in making decisions. S/he seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance. This particular element offers one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant-leadership. The servant-leader is effective at building consensus within groups. How do you fair as a leader in this area?
Conceptualization – A Servant-leader seeks to nurture their abilities to “dream great dreams of to think the unthinkable.” The ability to look at a problem (or an organization) from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities or one must think beyond that which is obvious. S/he must seek a delicate balance between conceptualization and day-to-day focus.
Foresight – Foresight is a characteristic that enables servant-leaders to understand lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision in the future. It is deeply rooted in the intuitive mind.
Stewardship – Robert Greenleaf’s view of all institutions was one in which CEOs, staff, directors, and trustees all play significant roles in holding their institutions in trust for the great good of society.
Commitment to the Growth of People – A Servant-leader believes that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, servant-leaders are deeply committed to the personal, professional, and spiritual growth of every individual within the organization. This entails putting in place a robust human resource development program that ensures that your organization fulfills its human capital responsibility to the organization and the country.
Building Community – A Servant-leader must be aware that the shift from local communities to large institutions as the primary shaper of human lives has changed our perceptions and has caused a feeling of loss. Thus, a Servant-leader seeks to identify a means for building a community among those who work within a given institution. Are you building a community as a leader?
Paul Nyausaru is an HR Practitioner and leadership coach. For all your HR interventions and leadership development training, you can get in touch with him on WhatsApp/call 0774062756 or Email firstname.lastname@example.org