Many of the leaders I work with, especially those in churches and other faith-oriented organizations, consider themselves to be Servant Leaders. They use the term for several reasons, but the main ones I encounter are because it is compatible with Christian lexicon (it sounds good) and/or because they believe they are serving God and/or people in their leadership role, making them (in their minds) Servant Leaders.
Actually, Servant Leadership is a specific style of leading others that emphasizes working together for a greater good to prompt achievement. These leaders take a people oriented approach to leading organizations. It is an investment of time, in people and purpose. As an inspirational leadership model, Servant Leadership, relies upon relationship building and supportive behaviors.
To know if you, or the leader you follow, is following the Servant Leadership model, look for these six signs:
- Model Integrity
- Help People Grow
- Build Community
Servant Leaders Listen. Servant Leaders take the time to listen to the people they lead. They not only give others an opportunity to speak, they listen; to ideas, concerns, fears, and hopes. They develop a reputation as people who are open to hearing both good and bad news. These leaders make the effort to listen when the topic is organization related and when it’s personal.
Servant Leaders Empathize. Servant Leaders are able to put themselves in the shoes of the people they lead. They have the capacity to recognize and understand how people are feeling or what their experience is like. The use their empathy to help them make decisions, considering how their actions and words will impact others.
Servant Leaders Persuade. Servant Leaders use persuasion, not their authority, to motive people towards goals. They resist the temptation to order people around, or to force compliance. Instead they use foresight to help them anticipate the information that others will want or need to be coaxed in a direction. This method often involves providing explanations, clarifications, and motivations for encouraging people to follow their lead.
Servant Leaders Model Integrity. Servant Leaders create trust relationships built on integrity. They set clear standards within their organizations that they adhere to along with everyone else. These leaders model good stewardship of resources, including time, setting an example that others willingly choose to follow. They build confidence in their leadership abilities by “walking their talk”.
Servant Leaders Help People Grow. Servant Leaders view the growth of their people as a key to organizational success. It is a coaching, mentoring style of leadership that is very people oriented. They invest heavily, and personally, in the growth and development of those who they lead. This includes allowing individuals opportunities to advance and celebrating the successes and achievements of people as they grow.
Servant Leaders Build Community. Servant Leaders value the relationships within their organizations, and emphasize the importance of community. They prioritize organizational culture, especially supportive behaviors. Respect and value for the individual, cooperation, communication and team-work are often hallmarks of groups led by a Servant Leader.
“Servant leadership starts with a vision and ends with a servant heart that helps people live according to that vision.” Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, Authors of The Servant Leader
The Servant Leadership model may not work for every leader, every organization, or every circumstance, but it can be a remarkably effective way to lead people towards common goals and achievement. For most, it is not necessarily a style that comes naturally, or even easily, but fortunately there is a wide range of resources to help those who want to lead in a way in manner that emphasizes the well-being of those who follow them. There are books, websites, coaches, and leadership training opportunities that emphasize the Servant Leadership style. For those interested in learning more, I recommend looking in to some of the resources available from Ken Blanchard, a leadership expert who has written and taught extensively on the Servant Leadership.
Esther DeWitt, M.S., CAMS-I is an organizational psychology practitioner specializing in conflict, emotional management and leadership issues. She is a Certified Anger Management Specialist and Credentialed Mediator. As president of Conflict Navigation, her services include mediation, leadership and organizational consulting and training, anger management coaching, and curriculum and material development.
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