What is Servant-Leadership? Description
Servant-Leadership is a practical altruistic philosophy which supports
people who choose to serve first, and then lead as a way of expanding service
to individuals and institutions. Servant-leaders may or may not hold formal
leadership positions. Servant-leadership encourages collaboration, trust,
foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment.
1970, AT&T executive Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990) coined the term in a
short essay entitled: "The Servant As Leader". In the essay, Greenleaf
describes some of the characteristics and activities of servant-leaders:
The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling
that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one
to aspire to lead. He or she is sharply different from the person who is
leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive
or to acquire material possessions. For such it will be a later choice to
serve - after leadership is established. The leader-first and the servant-first
are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are
part of the infinite variety of human nature.
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to
make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served. The
best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons;
do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous,
more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the
least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they
not be further deprived?
Origin of Servant-Leadership. History
In the East, Chanakya or Kautilya, a strategic thinker from ancient
India, wrote in his 4th century book Arthashastra: "The King (leader) shall
consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects (followers)".
In the West, the concept of servant leadership can be traced back to Jesus,
who taught his disciples: "You know that those who are regarded as rulers
of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority
over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you
must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give
his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45)
Characteristics of Servant-Leaders. Traits
A servant-leader has ten characteristics (Greenleaf, R. K., 2003):
- Listening. The leader has a deep commitment to listening intently
to others. Listening also encompasses getting in touch with one's own inner
voice and seeking to understand what one's body, spirit and mind are communicating.
Listening, coupled with regular periods of reflection, is essential to the
growth of the servant-leader.
- Empathy. The servant-leader strives to understand and empathize
with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special
and unique spirits.
- Healing. Learning to heal is a powerful force for transformation
and integration. One of the great strengths of servant-leadership is the
potential for healing one's self and others.
- Awareness. General awareness and especially self-awareness, strengthens
- Persuasion. A servant-leader relies on persuasion, rather than
using one's positional authority.
- Conceptualization. Servant-leaders seek to nurture their abilities
to 'dream great dreams'. The ability to look at a problem (or an organization)
from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day
- Foresight. The ability to understand the lessons from the past,
the realities of the present, and likely consequences of a decision for
- Stewardship. Holding something in trust for another.
- Commitment to the growth of people. The servant-leader is deeply
committed to the growth of each individual within his or her institution.
- Building community. Among those who work within a given institution.
Strengths of the Servant-Leadership philosophy. Benefits
- Servant-leadership is a long-term, transformational approach to life
and work - in essence, a way of being - that has the potential for creating
positive change throughout society.
- Servant-leadership is often compared with transformational leadership
approaches, which also emphasize collaboration. While transformational leaders
and servant-leaders both show concern for their followers, the overriding
focus of the servant-leaders is on service to their followers. Transformational
leaders have a greater concern for getting followers to engage in and support
organizational objectives. Compare:
The extent to which the leader is able to shift the primary focus of this
or her leadership from the organization to the follower is the distinguishing
factor in determining whether the leader may be a transformational or servant-leader.
Limitations of the Servant-Leadership concept. Disadvantages
- It is not a quick-fix approach. Nor is it something that can be quickly
instilled within an institution.
- Can be perceived by some as rather 'soft'. Listening and empathizing
too much with others may lead to indecisiveness or a lack of vision.
Book: Robert K. Greenleaf (1998) - Insights on leadership: Service,
stewardship, spirit, and servant-leadership (L. C. Spears, Ed.) -
Book: Robert K. Greenleaf (2002) - Servant-leadership: A journey
into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (L. C. Spears, Ed.) -
Book: Robert K. Greenleaf (2003) - The servant-leader within:
A transformative path (H. Beazley, Julie Beggs, & Larry C. Spears, Eds.) -
||The Servant-Leadership Model Should Be Taught to Anyone in a Position of Authority
"I believe that each CEO, political leader and anyone in a position of authority should be taught the servant leadership concept.
Furthermore, I believe that people may respect another person's position of authority for several reasons, but for one to truly be respected as a person this can only be obtained by true servant leaders, because they are people who respect the people they lead."
||The Leader is an Enabler
"Within the context of the Mission-Men-Self ethos of servant leadership, the Leader enables those around him or her to transcend their personal expectations as a means for achieving the common purpose.
This may require the deflation of the ego-based self-esteem of some while enticing greater moral sufficiency in others, and may not be a pleasant experience in the moment.
But by submitting to Mission before Self, the Leader gains the moral leverage necessary to enable superiors and subordinates alike to be all they can be."
||Influence of Culture on Servant Leadership
"In an article, Dierendock discusses how culture might influence servant leadership, mentioning two cultural dimensions (Hofstede) that (positively) affect servant leadership within organizations.
1. Humane Orientation: the extent to which a society stimulates being friendly, caring about others, fairness and kindness to others. In cultures with a high level of humane orientation, there is a stronger focus on taking care and being sensitive towards others. As a result, these cultures are likely to have leaders displaying higher attention to interpersonal acceptance, stewardship and the acknowledgement of belonging and taking care, which are all characteristics of servant leadership.
2. Power Distance: the degree to which a society accepts and expects differences in power levels, authority and status. Cultures in which the degree of this dimensions is high, people accept that power is distributed unequally. A low power distance culture stimulates the development of servant leadership more comparing to high power distance cultures, since the leader-follower relationship is more equal in cultures with a low degree of power distance. This combined with the fact that there is less attention for self-protection in low power distance cultures. One of the fundamental elements of servant leadership - focusing on personal growth - is more likely to occur as well.
Source: Dierendonck, D. “Servant Leadership: A Review and Synthesis”. Journal of Management vol. 37."
||Followers Empower Servant Leaders
"Whether paid or volunteer, cooperation is a choice followers make. The better the leaders serves the followers, the more the followers will empower the leader to lead them. Followers let us lead. They may perform at a level that is expected of them due to salary or job description, but how do you get them to give beyond that?
By being served, followers are willing to give more than you pay them for..."
||Quotes on Servant Leadership and Servanthood
"Here are some good quoatations I collected on servant leadership:
- To manage, one must lead. To lead, one must understand the work [and the people] that he and his [team] are responsible for. – Deming [Out of the crisis]
- To understand the work/ people that he and his team are responsible for, one must serve. – Jesus Christ [Mark, Chapter 10, vv. 43 and 44]
- To serve, one must follow. – Jesus Christ [John 12:26]
- Right leadership – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…
- Effective leadership – “…and love your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus Christ [Luke 10:27]
- There are no self-appointed leaders; “leader” is a title given only by those who choose to follow.
- Every leader cares enough about the impact they are having on others to continually renew and improve it.
- Leadership bears no relationship to position / title / rank.
- Leaders are born and made.
- Everyone has equal born-in leadership potential; not everyone realizes that potential through made-in human performance."
||Serving and Educating
"A leader should begin by the aphorism ‘to serve.’
This he integrates by developing character and responsibility in himself and his ‘associates’.
He seeks to actively listen first before doing the talking.
Further, since corporate business is a dialogue about the future, therein he imagines possibilities, and educates the team and carries it along.
The future then unfolds like a developing bud of a plant."
||Servant Leaders can Turn into Manipulators
"Humans are intrinsically selfish, power seekers. And even when one starts out to seek the welfare of others, sometimes in the end one turns out to be a manipulator.
It is the "pedagogue of the oppressed" (Paulo Freire). The oppressed normally turn around to become the oppressor.
I also believe that the end result has to do with the intent and motive of the individual which is often difficult to discern. However sometimes servant leaders who may or may not be in positions of authority rise up to change a situation. This is divinely bestowed.
Learning to put others above self is something that we have to practise and desire to want to achieve."
||Servant Leadership at the Top Position
"For me this way of leadership is generally the best, but it sometimes depends of the position. The best way to serve people is by being in the top position. The efficiency is going up with high responsability in the organization. Being in the crowd will serve, but is not a high responsability. Someone who can rightly lead on a low level of responsability, has the skills for more."
||Examples of Great Servant Leaders
"In studying the bible, the most concise history of the world and our existence, it becomes evident that the most amazing example of the Servant Leadership model is the servant leadership of the son of God, Jesus Christ.
Who, even though he was God in the flesh, did not count his equality with God a position to be attained, but gave us the greatest example of leadership in his servitude of the human race.
He emptied himself of all the authority that he held in heaven and became a servant on the earth so that he could understand what those who he would one day rule over experienced on a daily basis. He was the first and greatest undercover leader.
He even employed himself in the lowest job position in the Jewish community which was washing the feet of the master's guests.
He did this to show us how to interact with each other in interpersonal and business relationships.
If in our interactions with others we could serve each other then the greatest good of humanity and business would be attained."
||Servant Leadership Paradox
"The paradox, or seemingly contradicting statement of servant leadership, in the context of leadership and management, can only be the idea “You can’t serve, if you lead.” this may look correct at the start, although, when focused on, one can find much truth in this statement.
I found a poem by Brewer, cited by Hansel, Holy Sweat, Dallas Texas, Word, (1987). The last line of this poem “Leading enough to Serve”, rings true to me. It shows while we believe leading is a form of control, controlling the actions and values of others, when you become a great leader, you are actually advancing the training, career, stability, and feelings of value to the organization in the ones you lead. In essence serving the ones you lead."
||Servant Leadership Blended with Quantum Leadership and Diversity
"I have discovered that diversity is "primus inter pares - first among equals." Women and minorities have and will continue to cause structure / hierachy changes in organizations and institutitons.
I wish more corporate board rooms and news media board rooms across America would reflect this diversity, embrace / leverage the benefits from it (creativity, innovation, increased bottom line), and demand quantum leadership (leading from the future) from its' leaders.
Being a servant leader who is quantitative, I believe in "managing for results" and diversity management that looks beyond race and gender. Of course this is just my opinion, and I'm always open to discussion and improvement."
||Needed! Servant Leaders for the Corporate World
"Too often we see corporates turning to the "new buzz" in corporate management concepts almost like cows in a herd.
Hence, we see a lot of concepts such as servant leadership being adapted to suit the corporate strategy whilst at the same time keeping parameters of age-old concepts such as viewing organisations as "well-oiled machines" where each brick fits in the wall (or is made to fit or thrown out as the case may be)
Servant leadership by its very essence suggests that leaders and people who are in powers of authority need to tone down on the concept of scorecards being the final verdict in judging employee performance and instead suggests to aspiring participants to keep in mind the key metrics while adopting the more humble and consultative approach to enriching the experience of the internal clients- being the employees under the participant's authority."
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