The relationship between servant and leader is a fascinating one. In the concept of business and professional leadership, taking a close look at the interaction between these two concepts can be really instructive. In this post, we’ll discuss how leadership isn’t just about goal setting and accountability. Rather, the deeper, more meaningful philosophy of being a servant leader aims to develop other individuals to meet their full potential.
What is a servant leader?
When we think of a leader, we tend to imagine a strong-willed and charismatic individual who directs others to perform tasks and behave in a particular manner. Of course, there’s a lot of truth to this. Imagine a large band or orchestra. The band leader or conductor serves as a central director for style, tone and rhythm. Without a leader, it would be difficult for all the musicians to stay in sync.
Likewise a team leader in an organization needs to evaluate talent, then direct individuals to perform tasks in certain ways playing to their strengths to accomplish a task.
What happens when we add “servant” to the term, “leader?” Now, that leader actually serves the people they lead. They are no longer just pointing and shouting where to go and what to do. They are seeking to develop these individuals into stronger and more capable individuals.
What does it take to be a servant leader?
Most people studying this concept agree that it takes getting to know people on a deeper level.
For example, imagine a department head: he knows that Randy is an expert in using Excel. Our department head tasks Randy to assist on a large presentation of a new sales strategy. The presentation is a success and the new strategy is adopted.
This may be a good example of traditional leadership, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, what’s missing from this picture? All our department heads seemed to know about Randy is that they were skilled with Excel. Did the department head take the time to listen to Randy? Do they know anything about Randy’s challenges, Randy’s goals, or Randy’s other strengths?
Some may say that knowing these things isn’t terribly relevant to the larger goal of the department. However, the point of servant leadership is that it goes deeper. The ultimate point is that by gaining this deeper understanding of the ones you lead and seeking to develop them to meet their potential, you’ll succeed on a vastly improved and more meaningful level.
There are a few skills you’ll need to master to become a good servant leader. I’ve listed three of what I consider to be the most important here. There are several more, and no doubt, you can think of a few that work for you as well.
This is arguably the most important skill in becoming a servant leader. By now you should know that listening isn’t just hearing. It’s an active process in which you are engaged with the person you are communicating with. You are asking probing and clarifying questions, which creates a feedback loop where they know they are being appreciated and validated.
By listening, you’ll gain an understanding of your team member’s goals, strengths, and challenges, and how to take them to the next level.
When you actively listen and attempt to understand what your employee or team member is communicating, you should become aware of your development of empathy. This is the sense that you can understand what someone else is going through. It isn’t always easy. You need to search for things in your life that might have made you feel a similar way.
Some situations are very relatable, For instance, if someone tells you they are upset because a co-worker yelled at them, you’ve probably been in their exact shoes at one time or another. What if they tell you they are afraid of public speaking and are terrified to do an important presentation? You don’t share that fear. In fact, you love the thrill of speaking to a group. How do you empathize?
Think of things in life that are challenging for you. They can be in your personal or work life, from the present or even the past. No doubt there are things that you are afraid of. Perhaps you just put one foot in front of the other and did the thing you were afraid of. Even though you don’t share the same fear, you share fear on a human level and that is empathy.
This is where it takes some time to finesse and develop a skill for getting others to want to follow your instructions. We’ve all seen that scene in a military movie where the officer yells, “that’s an order, private!” Of course, there may be times when one needs to resort to rank or authority. But to build trust with those you lead, the power of persuasion is better for long-term success.
Persuasion isn’t about sugar coating or tricking someone into doing something. Rather, it’s about helping them realize why they need to do what you’re asking of them. To truly be a servant leader, you need to get them to understand why performing this task is part of their overall development and how it fits into the big picture.
What are the benefits of servant leadership?
If you think that the benefit of servant leadership is just increased sales or higher productivity, then you may have missed the point. Sure, these things will be a highly beneficial product and create a feedback loop of continued success.
The goal is to bring your team to another level of meaningful success and satisfaction in what they are doing. By helping them develop, set and meet goals, and learn you’ll develop a deep and productive relationship on a human level.
You’ll find that servant leadership leads to healthy risk-taking and professional growth. When you are modeling active and deep listening, you’ll find better communication throughout your ranks as well. When people have empathy and seek personal growth, morale improves.
When morale and motivation are high, you’ll see all those benefits of increased productivity. But in doing so, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you truly served to benefit the personal lives and professional development of those you lead.
Living Pono is dedicated to communicating business management concepts with Hawaiian values. Founded by Kevin May, an established and successful leader and mentor, Living Pono is your destination to learn about how to live your life righteously and how that can have positive effects in your career. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact us here. Also, join our mailing list below, so you can be alerted when a new article is released.
Finally, consider following the Living Pono Podcast to listen to episodes about living righteously, business management concepts, and interviews with business leaders.