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servant leadership

What is Servant Leadership, & What is it not? A simple guide

Leadership styles vary a lot among a variety of people and managers. We can find many unique and interesting takes on leadership. The teams and their composition are also a factor, along with the purpose. Servant leadership is one such unique leadership style that seeks to draw emphasis away from the most popular facet of leadership, i.e., power. Often people associate a leader with a powerful person who gets their whims satisfied by the team.

This leadership style puts a turnaround on this observation. Servant leadership strives to work for the team and serve them to enable the best outcome possible. In this blog, we will understand the principles guiding the method of servant leadership. If you believe this might be the right fit for your team, we will also review how you can practice it effectively as a manager or leader. Keep reading to find out more!

What is servant leadership?

Servant leadership is a leadership style that focuses on shifting management from a uni-directional process to a multi-directional one. Instead of emphasizing exercising authority, the manager focuses on enabling synergy across the team. Servant leader works to help others thrive at their jobs so that they can develop leadership qualities in every team member. Effectively, every team member is empowered to indulge their creativity in achieving their goals. The priorities of the team leaders and managers are given equal importance in this paradigm; therefore, it is also known as “even-power leadership.”

Robert Greenleaf introduced the concept of servant leadership as a counter to the conventional leadership styles that fixate on authoritarianism. In contemporary times, the same concern has been raised by numerous people. Resultantly, the servant leadership style is gaining more popularity. It is based on a few fundamental principles, which are as follows:

Principles of servant leadership

  1. Empathy
  2. Listening
  3. Awareness
  4. Healing
  5. Conceptualization
  6. Persuasion
  7. Stewardship
  8. Foresight
  9. Community building
  10. Commitment to the growth of others
Servant leadership appears helpful for the team and the members for sure, but the question arises – what does it hold for the managers? Because, at the end of the day, if a manager is working to encourage their team, they must also benefit from it. But worry not! Servant leadership brings a host of benefits for the managers too. We will look at a few of them here:

What benefits do leaders reap from practicing servant leadership?

Leaders earn respect and trust

Leaders who practice servant leadership are not the ones who love their titles and entitlements more than their team. It becomes apparent that they put the interest of their team before their interest. Employees who see their managers working hard as their equals and supporters will generate a sense of trust in them owing to their relatability. Further, a leader will be able to establish mutual respect across the team by following the philosophy of servant leadership.

Leaders who practice servant leadership understand that their organization’s success lies in their team members’ hands and work diligently to develop a strong relationship of trust and respect with them. All that together leads to improved relationships between the leaders and their subordinates.

Employee opinion adds value

A servant leadership style essentially takes the pyramid of hierarchy and authority and turns it upside down. Consequently, decision-making processes also inherit an employee-centric approach. The process begins with the team members’ opinions, goes on with smooth collaboration, and culminates in a shared vision. This puts an end to the top-down imposition of decisions on the team, which leave them clueless and alienated.

Moreover, it enhances the quality of discussions by infusing diversity and creativity, which enable out-of-the-box unconventional thinking. In the end, involving employees makes them feel valued. Servant leader helps their ideas reach the stage of action.

Reduces stress and conflict

A servant leadership style might be your panacea to perpetual conflicts and stress in the team. In the absence of a caring manager, employees are prone to feeling unheard and demotivated. With a constant barrage of orders offering no context, stress will surely knock on their doors sooner than later. This is where the change in leadership style intervenes.

It will help you engage them more in the conversations that are fundamental to the team’s course of action. Employees will be open to expressing their views and disagreements when they see the manager as an ally to their objectives rather than an imposing mercenary.

Encourages ownership and innovation

Most importantly, a servant manager focuses on the role of the facilitator instead of an in-charge. Effectively, the employees find ample space to lead objectives and develop innovative ways of doing things. The manager remains by their side as a guide and keeps them from going astray.

Therefore, it encourages an attitude of ownership among the employees. Moreover, employees can also do things in unconventional manners. Managers, especially those in the arena for a long time, tend to stick to tried and tested ways. This new leadership style helps them bring a breath of fresh air to their team through ambitious and tenacious employees.

How can you practice Servant Leadership?

The key to practicing servant leadership is cultivating an attitude of service toward others. Leaders must put the needs of their team first and strive to understand their concerns. There are several steps to follow if you aim to practice servant leadership which includes:

Develop the mindset

The first step to establishing servant leadership in your team is to develop the mindset of a servant leader. Often, managers struggle to see themselves as equal to or below their team members. Accepting your role as a facilitator to the jobs of others is essential to adopting the philosophy of servant leadership. It is about putting their goals first. A manager’s personal goals have to take the backseat while the team’s goals take charge.

As a servant-leader, you should be willing to put in the extra effort to help your team succeed, even sacrificing your agenda at times. You need to be able to put your ego aside and think about the best interests of everyone involved.

Listen attentively

Listening attentively is central to effective servant leadership. You will be able to serve the interests of your team best if you listen to their concerns attentively. By understanding their issues in detail, you can provide accurate interventions accordingly. Further, you should ask questions and seek feedback to learn how you can help them better.

All in all, you will be able to develop a personal relationship with your team members and fulfill your role effectively. Moreover, it will help you clear out miscommunication and misunderstanding within the team that might create friction.

Head out to our active listening toolkit to learn more about this!

Influence and guide

Being a servant leader is all about taking your team members’ hands as they progress towards their goals. As a servant leader, you should inculcate a habit of guiding others regarding the best pathway to achieving their objectives. You can give them crucial insights that convert into practical steps in their journey.

You can spread your influence in several ways, depending upon the team’s needs. You can use a coaching leadership style or mentorship leadership style. You can also become a role model for your members by displaying the behaviors you want your team members to have daily.

The next step after providing guidance is providing the essentials for getting things done. Your team members may need more resources or workforce to get results. Here, as a servant leader, you can guide them to find these things.

Foster a spirit of collaboration

Collaboration is one of the critical pillars of servant leadership. You must encourage your team members to work together as a collective unit. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree with everything. In fact, it often takes disagreement to come up with viable solutions. But, at the very least, everyone needs to be aware of what the others are doing and be willing to help where possible. By doing this, the team will operate far more efficiently because everyone will pull in the same direction. While at it, you should also ensure a good work-life balance for your team members.

Appreciate and value diversity of thought

When it comes to servant leadership, one of the essential virtues is an appreciation for the diversity of thought within your team. Leaders who practice servant leadership can see beyond their point of view and instead focus on the individual needs of their team members.

To practice servant leadership, you must be able to accept different points of view without judgment or criticism. It means that you should also be open-minded when implementing change and be prepared to listen to feedback from those who may face a negative impact. It would help if you also took the time to understand their concerns and be willing to do whatever it takes to solve the problem. 

Let others shine!

Not every contribution needs to be a front-and-center effort. Sometimes it’s important to let others take the spotlight – even if their contributions may not be at par with your standards. It doesn’t mean that you should neglect your strengths and abilities, but rather that you should aim to support those around you in whatever way possible.

Do not take over or control the situation, but rather help facilitate smooth collaboration and create environments that allow others to shine. The results are typically far more impressive when everyone pulls together than when individuals try to do it alone.

As a servant leader, you might miss out on the spotlight often. Your efforts in keeping the team together and committed happen behind the curtains. Remembering the importance of these backstage efforts is the key to keeping yourself motivated as a servant leader. Your final impact on the team would be a prize more significant than any other.

What Servant Leadership is not?

It would be easy to attach a pejorative connotation to the concept of servant leadership from the name itself. However, it is crucial to understand that servant leadership is not merely about serving others. You are taking care of your team as a manager with a dedicated vision and making efforts accordingly.

It is not about agreeing to the whims and fancies of the team, as some might interpret. An able servant leader commands respect among their team based on the efforts they make for it. Their role as an effective guide, which keeps the team together and moving, is recognized and appreciated.

The nomenclature of the term can serve as an inhibiter in adopting this leadership style. But servant leadership is all about breaking the conventional boundaries in which the roles of leaders and managers have been framed.

Conclusion

To conclude, servant leadership is a powerful and effective leadership style that emphasizes the leadership of service to others. It is a way of thinking that puts the needs of others first, and it has several powerful benefits for leaders. By following the principles of servant leadership, you can positively impact your team and achieve tremendous success. You can find more valuable insights on leadership styles here!

Master the servant leadership style through active listening.

Get the free active listening toolkit for managers that helps you become an attentive listener.

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