What is Servant Leadership?

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Kjell Tore Guttormsen, a Management 3.0 Facilitator and a Servant Leader at heart, shares his view on “Servant Leadership” and what it means to become a Servant Leader. In addition, we asked our LinkedIn followers about their take on Servant Leadership.

Servant Leadership is said to increase the chances of happier customers, more engaged employees, increased productivity, lower turnover rates, a healthier organization, and a boost in revenue. 

But how is Servant Leadership different from traditional leadership? When is Servant Leadership not the best choice? This article is all about Servant Leadership.

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Introduction to Servant Leadership

Robert K. Greenleaf first introduced the Servant Leadership concept in 1970 and it has gained popularity since the 1990s, because it is all about nurturing an atmosphere and an environment where people blossom. While we find Servant Leaders in all kinds of organizations where people have authority over others, unlike traditional leaders, Servant Leaders enable success by enabling people to succeed.

Servant Leadership creates sustainable and healthy organizations. Over time, employees will align with a shared purpose, vision, value system, and principles. In turn, it will be easier to reach organizational short- and long-term goals.

One possible definition of Servant Leadership is:
Someone who leads and achieves goals by serving those they lead.

Servant Leaders support people to develop their skills and potential. Through these leadership behaviors, a manager will use their power to empower others.

For me, being a true (or servant) leader means supporting people in their professional and personal development in the best possible way, motivating them for everyday life, inspiring them for new things, engaging them along when changes occur, and convincing them of common goals.

Bärbel Biste on LinkedIn

Why should you adopt Servant Leadership?

Servant Leadership represents a significant development in management thinking. Servant Leadership behaviors represent an opportunity for everyone in every organization including the customers, the business, teams, individuals, and the Servant Leaders themselves.

Let me explain. 

Adopting Servant Leadership is a good investment because it all starts with employees performing their best. Thus, Servant Leaders are strategic for the companies where they work.   

Servant Leaders lead with humility, empathy, and compassion. They build bridges between people and groups and inspire a work culture of engaged people.

Servant Leaders are motivational leaders who foster great teamwork and promote ownership from ideas to solutions. The result is happier employees, more innovation, increased productivity, and a healthier organization.

Servant Leadership vs. traditional leadership

Traditional leadership is the use of authority, coercion, or social power to influence others. In other words, someone is your leader if they can command you to do something. This style of leadership has been effective in getting things done in hierarchies and bureaucracies and often relies on formal rules that determine who has power over who.

A Servant Leader is someone who focuses on purpose, vision, inspiration, and providing feedback and they will support the people they lead to excel in their work. All of this means that it requires more time and energy to be a servant leader, but in the long run it leads to creating healthier organinzations.

Servant Leadership
In comparison to a traditional leader a Servant Leader is focusing on its people (Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions via Unsplash)

Servant Leadership and Management 3.0

Our core belief at Management 3.0 is that we should “Manage the system and not the people”. As a Servant Leader, you should understand the system where people work.

The Servant Leader:

  • Appreciates the value of supporting instead of managing people
  • Directs attention to the bigger picture
  • Enables people to understand, benefit and thrive within the system.

I believe a servant leader focuses its work on building a healthy and safe environment where the agile values can flourish through people and from them. He/she has the ability of awakening the team’s best version, empowering them to innovate, to solve problems, to self organize and to foresee the needs, making decisions that suits better for the whole ecosystem. In other words, the servant leader understands more about human beings whilst orchestrate the application of hard skill towards a conclusion of a common goal.

Alexandre Dumas Mendes Bueno on LinkedIn

Is Servant Leadership only suitable for managers?

Being a Servant Leader is not limited to managers. This type of leadership applies to anyone who sees the value in providing support to others. 

Servant Leadership offers a way for everyone to take responsibility for others and oneself.

Servant Leaders empower individuals, teams and organizations. They do this by inspiring others and providing opportunities to learn, grow and innovate. They motivate a culture where people feel safe enough to share and develop ideas.

Pros and cons of Servant Leadership

  • It may be a great way to lead, but it will not work with all people in all situations.
  • Requires a lot of trust and openness
  • Leadership development for people to become Servant Leaders may be challenging.
  • Servant Leadership may turn into self-sacrifice.
  • Servant Leadership is not always the best option for time-pressured leaders.
  • This type of leadership is unsuitable for someone with a natural preference for a more hands-off approach or a more controlling style.
  • Servant Leadership is not the best match for people that expect detailed work descriptions.
  • Servant Leadership is challenging in bureaucratic or hierarchical organizations where leaders make the decisions.

A Servant Leader is someone who invests in the life of another person to the extent that the other person becomes richer, better, bigger, wiser, heavier, wealthier, more famous than the leader themselves.

Dr. Madana Kumar, PhD on LinkedIn

Ten qualities of a Servant Leader

The Servant Leader is not your typical manager. They are, in fact, the opposite.

They engage in active listening and look for opportunities that will allow people to grow. They do this while accomplishing the company’s objectives.

A successful Servant Leader has the best interests of his workers in mind. He starts with a desire to serve them and believes that by doing so, he’s also serving the organization at large. 

Here are examples of Servant Leadership qualities:

  1. The Servant Leader is aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and values. They have integrity and inspires others by practicing what they say.
  2. The Servant Leader grows and develops people’s talents based on their inner motivation. 
  3. The Servant Leader is transparent, authentic, and empathetic. 
  4. The Servant Leader creates an environment where it is safe to take risks and make mistakes.
  5. The Servant Leader commits to the success of the people they are leading.
  6. The Servant Leader asks: “What can I do for you?” regularly.
  7. The Servant Leader empowers others by giving them autonomy, decision-power, and accountability.
  8. The Servant Leader does daily Gemba.
  9. The Servant Leader includes everyone from the customer to each team member.
  10. The Servant Leader is adept at mentoring and coaching, including athletic coaching. Carefully crafting questions based on deep listening is vital for success.  

➜ What are the qualities from the list above that you recognize in yourself and your leader?

Servant Leadership
The Servant Leader asks, “What can I do for you?” regularly. (Photo by Lagos Techie via Unsplash)

…a leader who knows how to act horizontally and is committed to the development of the team’s autonomy and capabilities, in addition to being a good driver when impediments appear.

Vanessa Santos Labuto on LinkedIn

Leadership skills for emergent Servant Leaders

Are you an emergent Servant Leader or are you struggling in your role as a Servant Leader? Consider developing the following skills to embrace this leadership style and these behaviors:

  • People skills
  • How to grow people
  • Effective communication
  • Listening skills
  • Empathy
  • Understanding the inner motivations of people
  • Becoming more inclusive
  • Using your strengths to compensate for your shortcomings
  • Leader as a coach
  • Motivational leadership
  • Self-awareness
  • Being able to juggle between different leadership styles

Also see: Leadership Skills

➜ Would you like to adopt Servant Leadership to make your company thrive in the digital age?

What is Servant Leadership – Header Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng via Unsplash

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