It might seem that the phrase servant leader is relatively new but it was actually coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, a US management writer, in the 1970’s. His idea was quite simply that leaders lead not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of those who are led by them.
Rather than the more traditional leadership style where the main focus is the growth of their organisation, a servant leader, is a “servant first”. The focus is on the needs of the team rather than their own and they provide the support that allows their team to build the skills they need to meet their targets. They involve the team in decision-making and work to build a sense of community which in turn leads to higher engagement, growing commitment, more trust, and stronger relationships within the team as well as with other stakeholders.
So what traits do you need to lead and serve?
Listen to others – A servant leader values views and contributions and uses this feedback when coming to a conclusion. They possess strong observation skills, are perceptive to what is happening around them and understand that people feel respected when they are listened to.
Value trust – A servant leader believes that everybody is valuable and deserves trust and respect. They treat everyone in the organisation the same – from the administrator to the CEO, and realise that trust needs to be earned.
Encourage others – A servant leader cares about the well-being of others and finds ways to motivate their team. They look for opportunities for team growth and are happy to share the limelight. They want everyone to be successful and encourage the team to work together.
Be a mentor – Servant leaders are happy to share their knowledge to help their team improve personally and professionally. They want their team to develop and new leaders emerge and like to think of their organisation as a community rather than a workplace.
Reflect on the longer-term – A servant leader projects past tomorrow’s goals. They care about the future success of the organisation and understand that today’s decisions will have far-reaching consequences. They regularly meet with their team to ensure they are thriving and meeting their set benchmarks.
Demonstrate tenacity- Servant leaders are encouragers by design but they are still determined and don’t give up easily. They believe that the mission of the organisation is too big to let go of and lead with a sense of purpose that drives them to make everyone around them better.
Be accountable – Servant leaders are not afraid to hold themselves or others accountable. Their standards are high, and ideals such as truth and transparency are fundamental to them. Servant leaders tend to focus on the positive and appreciate everyone’s worth, regardless of what roadblocks they face.
Although servant leadership entails placing the needs of others at the forefront, it doesn’t mean it’s a leadership style that’s submissive, lacking in authority or that makes it impossible to achieve goals and targets. It’s a more social style of leadership that, by meeting the needs of the team, provides the skills and knowledge that enables the growth of the organisation.