The term servant leader is certainly interesting. Some people view servants and leaders as mutually exclusive roles with one completely subservient to the other. Combining servant and leader into one term, and using it do describe a leadership ideology really causes people to freak out. In our world, it seems the idea of being a servant is really frowned up by those that would count themselves as leaders but I’m not sure why. We need only look back at history to see people who viewed themselves as servants, while the rest of us count them as leaders. With examples like Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King Jr., it seems to me we should all strive to be servant leaders of their ilk.
- Don’t be so prideful. My master’s program management instructor explained that if the term “servant” in servant leadership causes you problems, you should ignore it. This instructor has taught me so much, but on this particular point I must disagree. If you’re so prideful that the term “servant leader” causes you to lock up and freak out, you should seriously reconsider trying to lead. Being a leader has to be about humility and service to those you mean to lead. If you can’t stand that idea, you’re not a leader. Anyone who has been around a 4-year-old child understands how easy it is to be bossy. A leader is not bossy, and a boss is not necessarily a leader. Be HUMBLE!!
- Create autonomy. The point of servant leadership is to help your people learn to be autonomous and purposeful in their work. Some would use the term “empower” here, but I hate that term. It’s a buzzword we can do without. The point is to help your people do their jobs without having to run back to you for every decision. You must equip your people to the point they really don’t need you anymore. In that case, you as the leader become “a source” instead of “the source”. (Thank you Dr. Simmons for that) Your goal is to help your people become the best they can be at their jobs through mentorship and coaching. If you don’t have a heart for people, you can’t have a heart for leadership.
- Leadership is a privilege. You are not a leader based on your intellect, forcefulness, personality, or birthright. This is not a feudal society and being a leader is not a position you hold so that you can kick around a few serfs. Lordship is not leadership. Consider it a privilege that you’ve been asked to lead. Do it with a grateful heart and spirit and let those around you know that you’re there to help them succeed. If you’re not helping people succeed, you’re just a boss, and not a leader.
- Hush up and listen. If you’re leading then you’re probably not doing the day-to-day work that your people are doing, and that’s a good thing. However, it means you probably don’t know as much about the tactical / technical aspects of the job as they do. It goes to reason that you should listen to them, and involve them in decision-making. My grandpa once told me, “God gave you two ears and one mouth so that you’d listen twice as much you talk”. I always thought it was a little more polite way of telling me to shut up. But as I’ve gotten older and gained experience I realize that sometimes I talk too much. We all want to get our ideas out there to be heard. We all want respect. So give your people the respect you yourself desire by listening to their ideas. Good or bad, hearing them out will tell your people you respect them enough to give ear to their thoughts. Don’t be dismissive or superior, just listen.
There’s a lot more, but I don’t want this to be a 20 page blog post. I’ll come back next week with part two of “Be a Servant Leader”. Thanks for reading.
Having gotten about 80% of the way through my Master’s degree, and having worked for several different businesses over the last 18 years, I’ve developed my own set of standards regarding management. Sadly I’ve found one fundamental ideology I grew up believing seems to have been lost. My grandfather, and many of the people I respected in my youth understood the idea of leadership by example. It seems simple, so why is this tenant of leadership not more prevalent? Is it not as simple when we really make an effort to lead in this manner? This post will examine that very idea.
- Be Transparent – Leading by example requires that we are largely transparent in our leadership. We can’t be sneaky and duplicitous with those we mean to lead or mentor. People can tell when a leader is hiding something, and this causes distrust and suspicion, which is exactly the opposite of what we want in a leader. We want to know that they’re honest and have our best interests at heart. If we as leaders come across as though we’re hiding things, we comepletely destroy our credibility and any trust we’ve built with our people. Transparency equals trust.
- Don’t Be A Hypocrite – No one likes the “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality. If you expect a particular behavior, you must exceed that expectation yourself. The whole point of being a leader is motivating people to get the job done. To accomplish this, you must be worthy of their loyalty. A good leader will have much higher expectations of themselves than they do of their employees. Hold your employees to a high standard, but hold yourself to a much higher one.
- Be A Mentor – Being a boss is easy. My little 4 year old neice can boss people around with the best of them. But no one needs a boss. People need leadership in the form of mentorship. Mentorship is the type of leadership that puts the follower’s needs ahead of the leaders. The point of mentoring is to tangibly improve the protege, not to give them all the dirty work. It’s all about honest dealing and honest feedback. I promise if you lead with these things in mind, not only will you build your employees up, but they will work harder for you and will always remember you fondly. If none of that is important to you, you should change careers.
- Want respect? Be respectful!! – Everyone wants to be respected. If you have employees that don’t desire your respect, either you are doing a terrible job, or they are. It’s probably you. The first part of gaining the respect of your employees is treating them with respect. If you talk down to your reports they’ll talk about you behind your back. When you lose the respect of your workers, you can expect them to do the bare minimum necessary to get the job done. They will not put in any extra effort unless forced to. Most behavioral issues can be attributed to the system more than the individual. Just a hint, you as a leader are the system. Respect breeds respect.
- Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you! Think back to when you weren’t the boss. How did it make you feel when your supervisers condescended to you or treated you like a commodity? Are you doing the same thing to your employees? If so, shame on you. When you treat your people well they will do a better job for you. Employees that feel like they are an important part of the company will take ownership of their activities and produce at much higher levels. When people take ownership of their work, they make fewer mistakes and get more done. That’s the definition of productivity.
I am sure some of this is remedial to a lot of managers. However; given I have worked for several managers that were off the charts terrible, I felt this post was warranted. Even if you’re an exceptional manager, you can and should be striving to improve. Just remember, your job is to put your employees in a position to succeed, not to throw up a bunch of road blocks to success. Instead of being a block, be a mentor. After all, their success is your success.