Servant leadership is all about serving others. It’s about putting others first, even when it’s not convenient or comfortable. It’s about abandoning ourselves and using our strengths to help others. As a leader, it’s your job to inspire, motivate, and empower your employees.
But as the philosopher, Nietzsche once said, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” Your employees will only become stronger and more capable when they have the space to be themselves and follow their passions, and that only happens when you’re a servant-leader. As you’ll learn in this article, servant-leaders are selfless, put the needs of others before their own, and are characterised by humility and compassion.
According to the scholars who studied it, servant leadership might be regarded somewhat as a universal notion despite its origins in both Eastern and Western cultures. When it comes to the East, leadership researchers cite Chinese philosophers from the 5th century BC, such as Laozi, who believed that when the best leaders completed the task of their organisations, their members would respond, “We did it ourselves.”
An effective servant leader creates a supportive environment where their team can thrive.
The servant-leader places oneself at the service of their people within the framework established by those leadership decisions and actions. This is in contrast to giving them precise instructions on how to do each of their responsibilities.
The Servant as Leader, a 1971 essay by Robert Greenleaf, became very popular in contemporary leadership circles due to its popularity. Greenleaf, who died in 1990, went on to build the Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership in Atlanta, which is still in operation today.
The term servant leadership has been popularised by a variety of business leaders who have used their position of power to put the needs of others before their own.
The most high-profile practitioners of servant leadership are bound together by their focus on serving the people around them, even at the expense of their success. But there are other, less obvious ways that servant leadership manifests itself. An early and persistent thread running through servant leadership is its emphasis on examples, both as a way of illustrating the concept and its application in practice.
This radical concept goes against everything we’re taught about leadership. But when we shift our focus away from the leader being “in control” and instead ask, “What can I do for others?”
The philosopher and teacher Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” He was referring to the fact that everyone has the ability and capacity to serve others.
What this means in practice is that servant leaders are selfless. However, it’s only when we allow ourselves to be guided by this idea that we begin to realise our true potential.
Like most leadership concepts, servant leadership can be broken down into a series of loosely defined principles, or “ingredients”, that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of different leadership styles.
The most high-profile servant leadership practitioners have all used a similar set of ingredients. Still, their recipes have been mixed in different proportions to give birth to various flavours. But regardless of their unique blend, all servant-leaders share several character traits. They are all characterised by humility and compassion.
Researchers have conducted several studies looking into the characteristics of servant-leaders.
One such study, published in the Academy of Management Journal in 2012, analysed the servant-leadership examples of 24 of the most admired business leaders. These leaders came from 14 different industries and included household names and relative unknowns. The researchers looked at several different characteristics, including their measures of humility and selflessness, and found that all of the servant-leaders they studied exhibited these traits.
A number of studies have been conducted on the link between servant-leadership and performance. Many of these studies have looked at the impact of servant-leadership interventions on individual performance levels, with some surprising and promising results. For example, in one study, researchers found that when teachers were trained to act like servants, their students’ academic performance improved. In another study, researchers found that their sales increased when salespeople were encouraged to act like servants.
Research has shown that servant-leaders display several positive characteristics. One study found that servant-leaders are more likely to be perceived as highly ethical than leaders with a more command-and-control style.
They tend to be rated higher on the dimensions of warmth and competence, which goes a long way towards explaining their success in motivating and inspiring their employees. They are also more likely to be viewed as transformational leaders, which means that they are well-liked by their employees and colleagues.
- Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker and managing consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm. — https://www.thehumancapitalhub.com or e-mail: email@example.com.