Rethinking Servant Leadership

It seems these days the wires aren’t as hot with servant leadership articles and blogs as they were just a couple years ago. In one way I’m OK with that. In another I’m not. I don’t like it when good concepts are turned into fads. While I have nothing against the attention a fad brings to an issue, it’s disappointing when leaders fail to assimilate the concepts into their culture before moving on to the next “hot” program.

Although the term “Servant Leadership was coined back in the 70’s, the principles have been around as long as the bible and as I’ve said before, real leadership has always been of a servant nature. As social beings we’re naturally wired for it. It’s the model we’re given to build healthy and strong families. So, before another good concept drifts into the past, I thought it would be good to revisit a few principles that we shouldn’t lose.

  1. Servant leaders provide a vision and place a high value on subordinating self to the larger team. They set clear expectations for themselves and others and then ask: How can I help? What do you need to succeed in your role?
  2. Servant leaders support and facilitate those they serve. They’re committed to other’s success and hold others around them to a high, but fair standard of performance. They expect a lot and provide an exceptional level of support and encouragement to those willing to accept the challenge. They also expect others to hold them to the same standard.
  3. Servant leaders actively pursue maximizing the potential in others. Through coaching and opportunities for growth they help others find their place in the organization or outside of it if necessary.
  4. Servant leaders expect others to accept personal responsibility. They don’t coddle and they don’t tolerate helplessness or inaction. They expect everyone to perform up to their potential and encourage everyone to expect the best from their teammates. Failure to do ones part is less of a personal failure than it is a failure to serve the good of the team.
  5. Servant leadership isn’t a one-way street. Leaders don’t settle for being the only servant in the room. They won’t be taken advantage of and expect teammates and others to exhibit the same qualities. They are teachers through instruction and modeling. They expect to create a culture where the people they serve will also serve others. It’s foolish and frustrating to serve others who enjoy being served but refuse to serve others.
  6. Servant leaders don’t dodge or shrink from the tough issues. They challenge the self-serving behaviors and actions of others firmly but with grace and compassion.
  7. Servant leaders are fully aware of their own behavior and response to situations. They understand the influence their style has on others.
  8. Servant leaders know they’re not the smartest people in the room. They are passionate about building a team. They see themselves as conveners of the gifts and talents inherent in others and harness it in pursuit of the organization’s goals.
  9. Servant leaders are not soft or weak. They understand the place for humility in leadership without compromising their own identity. They put themselves in a position of serving others without giving up their role and requirement to lead.
  10. Servant leaders recognize that their leadership style extends beyond the company to include customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. It’s an attitude, not a program, that influences every human interaction the company has.

Fortunately for many companies, this is already common behavior. Unfortunately for others it’s not and they miss out on the powerful benefits a service-style culture can bring. Leading is difficult when it doesn’t flow from our human nature to serve one another. When we all can say we’re leading by the golden rule, we’ll have gotten what we need from servant leadership and once again we can say that it’s just old fashion leadership we’re practicing.

If you’d like to talk about how to create a high performance, caring and compassionate leadership style, reach out to me through the “contact us” tab on this page.

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