4 Tips for Servant Leaders

 Maxine I totally agree, I think most of us suffer from the hero leadership syndrome so to speak. In my more humble moments, I think about my lord and saviour whose example of leadership, i.e. servant leadership served him well. He knew when to listen, when to talk, when to give, and how to receive. He practiced the virtue of waiting, and had the courage to admit mistakes and take responsibility. He did all this through serving others (host). By hosting (serving) there can be no loss because everyone wins and the problem/challenge is managed for the best outcome for all. – Delia Joseph GM – PMSL

The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf.  In his 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader, he shares “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. 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”

While Delia’s feedback indicates that she views leadership from a religious perspective, her thoughts are very much aligned to Greenleaf’s idea of the servant leadership. (They both view servant-leadership as a life philosophy, as well as, a leadership style.)

Servant leaders share power. They encourage, support and enable team members to unfold their full potential and abilities and invite team members to participate in planning work and making decisions. Characteristics such as trust, empathy, collaboration and the ethical use of power are necessary for this type of leadership to succeed. These leaders bravely debunk the idea of the leader at the top of the food chain and willingly share responsibility and accountability to create more effective teams. Leaders who practice servant-leadership know that this is not an easy path, since it does not preference personal egoistic needs, and often goes against most of what we have learned and seen in leaders – leading from the front, making all decisions, taking full responsibility, delegating, managing, co-ordinating.

For those of us who want to adopt this noble practice I offer four tips, to keep you on track:

  1. Establish Boundaries – In all relationships there are non-negotiable values or principles that we hold dear. Determine what these are for you personally and lead with these in mind. Share these with team members and seek to understand what are their non-negotiable values. Just as the host limits the access of guests to areas of her space – perhaps her bedroom – so too the servant leader determines his boundaries.
  2. Self Care – Serving others can be draining. After attending to the needs of  others, the server must extend self care to himself, to give himself the opportunity to restore, rejuvenate and to rest. Servant leaders need to retreat, to have a sounding board in someone that they trust, and to take time outs for themselves by themselves.
  3. Saying “No” -Saying “No” is essential for maintaining boundaries and practicing self care. Without “No” boundaries become negotiable and self care is optional to the whims, desires, wants and needs of others. The leader articulates “No” without feeling guilt or shame knowing that she is not being egoistic. The leader says “No” believing that she is standing in her personal power, true to her principles and serving the needs of the team .
  4. What would Jesus Do? For those of us who approach servant leadership from a religious perspective, let us ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” Jesus was a complex man, who from an early age questioned and challenged the status quo. While he was humble and served his people he was great at setting boundaries, saying “No”, speaking his truth, standing up for what he believed in and having courage. He showed a whole other side to the kid version of gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

What type of leadership do you practice? What tips do you use to keep yourself on track?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win.  She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations.  She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational  Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

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