Although Servant Leadership may not be familiar to business organizations, it is a belief system that is already embraced by some of the most successful organizations in the world.
Servant Leadership focuses on individuals and a decentralized organizational structure by facilitating innovation and development of leaders to serve all stakeholders in an organization. This includes employees, customers and the community in general. It is seen as an evolution of a traditional corporate measure that emphasizes growing shareholder returns over time. It is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.
A servant first
While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the term “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader”, a paper he published in 1970. Greenleaf said: The servant-leader is a servant first.
The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature. Servant Leadership begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from the one who is a leader first; perhaps because of the need to satisfy an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.
A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the top of the hierarchy, servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform at higher levels.
Servant leadership can be used to improve business performance through a decentralized structure that focuses on employee empowerment and encourages innovation. Upper management could share key decision making powers with employees who work directly with customers, they are better aware of what is needed to serve clients and remain competitive because of their knowledge of what is occurring on the “front lines” of the business. Some argue that Servant leadership is not a leadership style or a technique as such. Rather it’s a way of behaving that leaders adopt over a longer period. It complements democratic leadership styles, and it has similarities with Transformational Leadership – which is often the most effective style to use in business situations. However, Servant Leadership is problematic in hierarchical, autocratic cultures where managers and leaders are expected to make all the decisions. Here, servant leaders may struggle to earn respect. It must not be seen as a model for weak leaders or “losers.” When the going gets tough or when difficult decisions have to be made, as is inevitable in all leadership situations, the servant leader must be just as tough-minded and resilient as other kinds of leaders. What distinguishes servant-leaders from others is not the quality of the decisions they make, but how they exercise their responsibility and whom they consult in reaching these decisions.
Adapting Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership frame work - Dr. Jim Laub identified key areas of effective organizational leadership. These key areas of organizational leadership practices are critical to achieving optimal organizational health.
Values people listening: Leaders have traditionally been valued for their communication and decision-making skills. While these are also important skills for the servant-leader, they need to be reinforced by a deep commitment to listening intently to others. The servant-leader seeks to identify the will of a group and helps clarify that will. He or she seeks to listen receptively to what is being said. Listening, coupled with regular periods of reflection, is essential to the growth of the servant-leader.
Empathy: The servant-leader strives to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirits. Assumes the good intentions of coworkers and does not reject them as people, even it is necessary to refuse to accept their behavior or performance.
Develops people commitment to grow people: Servant-leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As a result, the servant-leader is deeply committed to the growth of each and every individual within the institution. The servant-leader recognizes the tremendous responsibility to do everything possible to nurture the growth of employees.
Builds community healing: One of the strengths of servant-leadership is the potential for healing one’s self and others. Many people have broken spirits and have suffered from a variety of emotional hurts. Although this is part of being human, servant-leaders recognize that they also have an opportunity to “help make whole” those with whom they come in contact.
Persuasion: Servant-leader is a primary reliance on persuasion rather than positional authority in making decisions within an organization. The servant-leader seeks to convince others rather than coerce compliance. The servant-leader is effective at building consensus within groups.
Building community: Servant-leadership suggests that true community can be created among those who work in businesses and other institutions. Servant-leader could demonstrate his own unlimited liability for a quite specific community-related group.
Displays authenticity awareness: General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader. Awareness also aids one in understanding issues involving ethics and values. It lends itself to being able to view most situations from a more integrated, holistic position.
Provides leadership foresight: Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future. It is also deeply rooted within the intuitive mind. Foresight remains a largely unexplored area in leadership studies, but one most deserving of careful attention.
Shares leadership conceptualization: Servant-leaders seek to nurture their abilities to “dream great dreams.” For many managers this is a characteristic that requires discipline and practice. Servant-leaders are called to seek a delicate balance between conceptual thinking and a day-to-day focused approach.
Stewardship: In practice CEOs, staffs, and trustees all play significant roles in holding their institutions in trust for the greater good of society. Servant-leadership, like stewardship, assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of others.
Servant Leadership emphasizes increased service to others; a holistic approach to work; promoting a sense of community; and the sharing of power in decision making. Servant-leaders must be value- and character-driven people who are performance and process oriented.
(This is the twentieth article under the Leadership series. The writer Eng. Gamini Nanda Gunawardana, B.Sc. Eng. (Hons.); M.B.A.; C.Eng.; F.I.E. (SL); M.C.S. (SL); M.I.D.P.M. (UK); F.I.A.P. (UK); M.B.C.S. (UK) Management, HR, OD & ICT Consultant, Corporate Trainer, Executive Coach Consultant – HRD- Goodhope Asia Holdings Ltd. Can be contacted via E Mail :firstname.lastname@example.org)
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