How often have you come across challenges with the bosses and managers in your life as an employee? Have you been exposed to someone you've considered a leader? What was the difference that elevated their role from that of an administrative supervisor to a person who created an impact as a leader? The act of serving others should be foremost in the minds of people who want to truly lead others. This concept has been present throughout human history that is evidenced by the following:
Servant leadership can be found in many religious texts, though the philosophy itself transcends any particular religious tradition. In the Christian tradition, this passage from the Gospel of Mark is often quoted in discussions of servant leadership:
"42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45
"the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]" "the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people."
Servant leadership is an ancient philosophy. There are passages that relate to servant leadership in the Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao-Tzu, who is believed to have lived in China sometime between 570 BCE and 490 BCE:
The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy. When you are lacking in faith, Others will be unfaithful to you. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, All the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’
Servant leadership is both a leadership philosophy and set of leadership practices. Traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid.” By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_leadership)
Even though this concept has been present throughout human history, it began to develop more attention in the 1970's when the term was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay he wrote about leadership:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…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.”
“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“
Sadly very few of us have had the privilege of experiencing this type of leadership in our professional careers. Most often people are exposed to negative styles of leadership rather than having a positive experience. Here are both some positive and negative styles that are most prevalent today :
A laissez-faire leader lacks direct supervision of employees and fails to provide regular feedback to those under his supervision. Highly experienced and trained employees requiring little supervision fall under the laissez-faire leadership style. However, not all employees possess those characteristics. This leadership style hinders the production of employees needing supervision. The laissez-faire style produces no leadership or supervision efforts from managers, which can lead to poor production, lack of control and increasing costs.
The autocratic leadership style allows managers to make decisions alone without the input of others. Managers possess total authority and impose their will on employees. No one challenges the decisions of autocratic leaders. Countries such as Cuba and North Korea operate under the autocratic leadership style. This leadership style benefits employees who require close supervision. Creative employees who thrive in group functions detest this leadership style.
Often called the democratic leadership style, participative leadership values the input of team members and peers, but the responsibility of making the final decision rests with the participative leader. Participative leadership boosts employee morale because employees make contributions to the decision-making process. It causes them to feel as if their opinions matter. When a company needs to make changes within the organization, the participative leadership style helps employees accept changes easily because they play a role in the process. This style meets challenges when companies need to make a decision in a short period.
Managers using the transactional leadership style receive certain tasks to perform and provide rewards or punishments to team members based on performance results. Managers and team members set predetermined goals together, and employees agree to follow the direction and leadership of the manager to accomplish those goals. The manager possesses power to review results and train or correct employees when team members fail to meet goals. Employees receive rewards, such as bonuses, when they accomplish goals.
The transformational leadership style depends on high levels of communication from management to meet goals. Leaders motivate employees and enhance productivity and efficiency through communication and high visibility. This style of leadership requires the involvement of management to meet goals. Leaders focus on the big picture within an organization and delegate smaller tasks to the team to accomplish goals.(http://smallbusiness.chron.com/5-different-types-leadership-styles-17584.html)
With all these styles to choose from why should managers or supervisors look to becoming a servant leader to have a greater impact with those they lead? A servant leader looks at those in their ranks with a different perspective that is encapsulated by using the 3 C's of Servant Leadership:
Compassion - As a servant leader people must see those they lead as another human being with the same needs and challenges they face in life. They have to look at the big picture, and remember that life is greater than what exists within the walls of the office or confines of the cubicle. When a leader gets to know those in their ranks they're able to uncover diamonds that may have been in the ruff. They don't need to know every detail of that person's life, but can show true sincerity by caring about the future personal and professional growth of those they lead. Then the servant leader is able to be both a counselor and mentor focused on trying to help those they lead achieve their potential. This result only occurs by leaders who are willing to sacrifice their needs to be present with their staff.
Collaboration - When leaders take the time with staff the relationship changes from us and them to colleagues dedicated to achieving the same goal. Servant leadership is grounded in understanding that those you lead possess the knowledge and skills that can create success for you and your organization. What motivates a servant leader is the desire to achieve the best outcome for all involved without any need for receiving the recognition.
Conviction - A servant leader is able to step out of the spotlight, and allow their staff to take control of a project with complete confidence that they will achieve success. These actions occur because they come from a leader who possesses intrinsic beliefs and convictions about serving others. Servant leaders believe that they are in their position to enhance the lives of others. When leaders are driven by the desire to create an impact through serving others then great things can happen. Cultures can be changed within companies by embracing the contributions of their staff, policies can be created that ensure justice is delivered to those working for the organization, and compassionate direction can be offered that inspires people to contribute by giving their best each day.
Aspiring to be a servant leader means going against the traditional leadership styles embraced by organizations, and pushing the envelope to ensure that positive change occurs by creating a culture of service. It can be a challenging road to take, but what a difference it can make. What would your company look like if it was filled with servant leaders? How would it feel to be motivated by meeting the needs of others each day? If you're leader then I encourage to look at how can strive to be a servant leader. Start by focusing on those you lead, and serve by meeting their needs.