Servant Leadership was first recorded between 570BC to 490 BC in the writing of Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, it gained popularity in the early 1970s as Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase, and has been inspirational to leaders worldwide ever since.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mohandas Gandhi
This article provides an overview of Servant Leadership, its application and benefits in the corporate world, and the key qualities of a Servant Leader.
In oppose to the ‘Power Leadership’ which involves the accumulation and exercise of power at the top of an enterprise, ‘Servant Leadership’ turns the traditional pyramid model upside down where the leader puts the need of others first and helps people to develop to achieve common goals.
Servant leadership is not merely a leadership style or technique that one adopts for a particular scenario, it is a means of working that is being embedded in one’s approach and practised over the long term. It shares a few similarities with transformation leadership and complements democratic leadership style which we will explore further in a dedicated article for various leadership styles. Robert Greenleaf regarded servant leadership as a “philosophy” which is a “set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organisations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world”.
A servant leader ensures others’ highest priority needs are being served before one’s own. He/she engages all stakeholders, acknowledges and appreciates different perspectives; supports and empowers employees to unlock their potentials and meet their goals; promotes collaboration, trust and empathy in the workplace, cultivates a sense of community and improves corporate performance and innovation.
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…”
– Robert K. Greenleaf
It is worth mentioning that individuals, as well as organisations, can be servant leaders, and as a matter of fact, Robert Greenleaf had great faith that servant-leader organisations could help to build a better society, creating more opportunities for its people, and changing the world.
HOW TO BECOME A SERVANT LEADER
So we have discovered what is a ‘servant leader’, its merits and how it differs from a leader in the traditional sense, the next question comes naturally is how to become one? There are a number of studies aiming to generalise the important characteristics and qualities of the servant leader, and a few key qualities are summarised below.
Key Qualities of the Servant Leader:
- Lead with others in mind
- Listen to and value different opinions
- Cultivate a culture of trust and build community
- Commit to both professional and personal growth of people
- Develop long-term strategy
- Persuade and encourage the team to take action
- Able to self-reflect and course correct
Whilst the qualities of a servant leader help to portrait a targeted ‘role model’, the virtue and essence of servant leadership resides in our belief and practice, and it is a long-term commitment that one needs to devote oneself to in order to achieve the desired influence.
In summary, servant leadership is a powerful approach in which the leader acts to serve those who are led to achieving common goals. Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that engage and empower individuals to build better organisations, communities and ultimately a better world.
Remember, you must be the change you want to see in the world.
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