To some people the very term “Servant Leadership” may seem like an oxymoron. However, it’s been making the rounds in many leadership training workshops in recent years.
Actually, the phrase “Servant Leadership” was coined over 40 years ago by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay called The Servant as Leader. He wrote that such leaders make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. They see to it that those they serve grow as individuals; that they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and, as a result they are more likely themselves to become servants.
Rather than tyrannical, demanding bosses, they become mentors, guides and even cheerleaders of the accomplishments of those on their staff. This, in turn, creates a more harmonious workplace, happier employees and thus, more satisfied customers. It is what author Stephen Covey would call a “win-win” situation.
In fact, Covey is a proponent of “Servant Leadership.” He says it requires humility of character and core competency around a new skill set. To become servant leaders, Covey lists three steps that executives must take.
- Build relationships of trust.
- Set up win-win performance agreements.
- Be a source of help.
People want to hire people they trust to come into their homes for repair work and to support businesses that they believe will treat them fairly. Once these relationships have been established and nourished, people will come back again and again. They will tell others about you and your work.
Everyone wants to feel like their needs have been met. Win-win agreements represent an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship between two or more people or organizations who work together. There is always a way to achieve this through open, two-way interaction, with each party seeking to find the optimum, mutual benefit.
Servant leaders can be a source of help to their employees by assisting them in meeting their goals, which in turn, is a positive benefit for all involved. According to Covey, a concerned leader needs to ask four questions during mutual accountability sessions:
- How’s it going? Or, what’s happening?
- What are you learning from this situation?
- What are your goals now?
- How can I help you?
It takes guts to practice this type of leadership, says Covey. Knowing that the boss has everyone’s best interest at heart empowers people. They become more productive and innovative. This type of environment invites cooperation and team-building.
In his book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck states, “Servant Leadership is more than a concept. As far as I am concerned, it is a fact. I would simply define it by saying that any great leader, by which I also mean an ethical leader of any group, will see herself or himself primarily as a servant of that group and will act accordingly.“
Because this leadership model is character based, those in positions of leadership will find they will achieve their best results if they strengthen their own character and lead by examples of humility, cooperation, encouragement and support. Being willing to put yourself in a position of servant leader will keep you more actively involved with your co-workers. As you strive to serve them and get to know them, your appreciation for them and their contributions will grow and together you and your company will accomplish great things.