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What is Servant Leadership?

Posted by David Ballinger on Jul 10, 2018 8:00:00 AM
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Servant leaderLeadership styles can vary as drastically as the individuals who lead. While some styles result in met goals, others fail miserably. Some leadership approaches spur employees toward success, and others shrink their confidence.

Regardless of your experiences under leadership or your typical approach to leading, it's time to learn about one leadership style that's both effective and often overlooked. It's called Servant Leadership. 

Servant Leadership Defined

So what exactly is Servant Leadership? It's when leaders of companies, businesses, organizations, teams, etc. put their employees first. Whether that means picking up lunch for a client meeting or listening to another team member's new idea, Servant Leadership is all about prioritizing the needs and interests of the people you lead. 

Servant Leadership Developed

The idea of Servant Leadership can be traced back to Chinese philosophers from 5th Century B.C. More recently, Robert Greenleaf wrote a 1971 essay on the topic and also founded Atlanta's Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. Since then, other organizations have popularized and implemented the concept, including Southwest Airlines and the Servant Leadership Institute in California.

Servant Leadership is also recognized and developed in Jim Collin’s book Good to Great as being Level 5 Leadership. Level 5 leaders display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They're incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause  for the organization and its purpose  and not for themselves.

While Level 5 leaders can come in many personality packages, they are often self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy. Every good-to-great transition in Jim Collin’s research began with a Level 5 leader who motivated the enterprise more with inspired standards than inspiring personality.

The Drive Behind Servant Leadership

This purpose-driven style of leadership relates well to Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. As Warren answers one of life’s greatest questions — why am I here on earth? — he shares  four transformational words: It’s not about you. When an individual really understands this, it can change any and every relationship  not only a marriage or a family, but also a business.

Can a person learn to become Level 5? Collin's research and hypothesis concluded that there are two categories of people: those who do not have the seed of Level 5 and those who do. 

The second category of people (and probably the larger group) consists of those who have the potential to evolve to Level 5; the capability resides within them, perhaps buried or ignored, but there nonetheless. And under the right circumstances  self-reflection, conscious personal development, a mentor, a great teacher, loving parents, a significant life experience, a Level 5 leader, or any number of other factors  they begin to develop.

The Servant Leadership Difference

When leaders serve those who are by company standards "under them," these companies experience a variety of positive results. Here are some examples:

Servant Leadership in the Day to Day

So what does Servant Leadership look like in everyday life? Here are some ways it can be implemented:

  • Educating new team members about Servant Leadership
  • Listening to employees' thoughts, suggestions and ideas
  • Recognizing that when employees' needs are met, the company improves as a whole
  • Offering professional development opportunities to employees and also encouraging them to seek out their own
  • Building employees' confidence by giving them unique opportunities to lead
  • Treating every employee like a future leader

Discovering Servant Leaders

At OpSource, we're strong advocates of Servant Leadership, and we encourage companies we work with to consider introducing Servant Leadership to their own workplaces. We also believe in helping employers hire job applicants who are a good fit for their corporate culture  those who are future Servant Leaders.

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Tags: Human Resources, Workforce Management