Servant leadership

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Hey Blog,

I’ve started my new job. I’m tired, because I’m unused to the hours, the travelling, and the need to concentrate for all that time. However, I can see it will be a good thing.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is the sort of leader I am. Truth be told, I’m not actually a natural leader. I can do it, but I think I’m a better facilitator, mentor, coach and companion. I like to lead by presenting a vision, then recruiting the enthusiasm of those involved. I need to be a leader in this job, both of people I manage directly, but also of the organisation more generally.

I encountered the concept of servant leadership some time ago. Robert Greenleaf coined the phrase in about 1970, in an essay entitled The Servant as Leader:

“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…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 not be further deprived?”

There seem to be some characteristics of servant leaders (from an article by Larry Spears):

  1. Listening. Leaders have traditionally been valued for their communication and decision-making skills. While these are also important skills for the servant-leader, they need to be reinforced by a deep commitment to listening intently to others. The servant-leader seeks to identify the will of a group and helps clarify that will. He or she seeks to listen receptively to what is being said. Listening, coupled with regular periods of reflection, is essential to the growth of the servant-leader.
  2. Empathy. The servant-leader strives to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirits. One assumes the good intentions of coworkers and does not reject them as people, even if one finds it necessary to refuse to accept their behavior or performance.
  3. Healing. One of the great strengths of servant-leadership is the potential for healing one’s self and others. Many people have broken spirits and have suffered from a variety of emotional hurts. Although this is part of being human, servant-leaders recognize that they also have an opportunity to “help make whole” those with whom they come in contact. In “The Servant as Leader” Greenleaf writes: “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if implicit in the compact between servant-leader and led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share.”
  4. Awareness. General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader. Awareness also aids one in understanding issues involving ethics and values. It lends itself to being able to view most situations from a more integrated, holistic position. As Greenleaf observed: “Awareness is not a giver of solace–it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity.”
  5. Persuasion. Another characteristic of servant-leaders is a primary reliance on persuasion rather than positional authority in making decisions within an organization. The servant-leader seeks to convince others rather than coerce compliance. This particular element offers one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant-leadership. The servant-leader is effective at building consensus within groups.
  6. 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 realities. For many managers this is a characteristic that requires discipline and practice. Servant-leaders are called to seek a delicate balance between conceptual thinking and a day-to-day focused approach.
  7. Foresight. Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future. It is also deeply rooted within the intuitive mind. Foresight remains a largely unexplored area in leadership studies, but one most deserving of careful attention.
  8. Stewardship. Peter Block has defined stewardship as “holding something in trust for another.” Robert Greenleaf ‘s view of all institutions was one in which CEOs, staffs, and trustees all played significant roles in holding their institutions in trust for the greater good of society. Servant-leadership, like stewardship, assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of others. It also emphasizes the use of openness and persuasion rather than control.
  9. Commitment to the growth of people. Servant-leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers.As a result, the servant-leader is deeply committed to the growth of each and every individual within the institution. The servant-leader recognizes the tremendous responsibility to do everything possible to nurture the growth of employees.
  10. Building community. The servant-leader senses that much has been lost in recent human history as a result of the shift from local communities to large institutions as the primary shaper of human lives. This awareness causes the servant-leader to seek to identify some means for building community among those who work within a given institution. Servant-leadership suggests that true community can be created among those who work in businesses and other institutions. Greenleaf said: “All that is needed to rebuild community as a viable life form for large numbers of people is for enough servant-leaders to show the way, not by mass movements, but by each servant-leader demonstrating his own unlimited liability for a quite specific community-related group.”

I see my primary calling as being to serve – I have always felt that my vocation was to the diaconate, being a servant of others. I think the challenge for me at the moment is to see how I can serve and lead. St Benedict’s model of leadership in the monastery is for the abbot to be the servant-leader of the community – the abbot leads in order to assist the growth of the community (corporately and individually) into God.

My workplace is loud, busy, focussed on results – how can I be who God calls me to be in this place? How can I be a monk there? How can I serve and lead? How can I love God there?

Challenges.

C

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2 Comments »

  1. Colin,

    I enjoyed your Blog on Servant Leadership. I hope you don’t mind. but I used it as a basis for a Blog of my own at the Servant-Leadership Blog. I appreciated reading about your efforts to incorporate servant leadership into your life and the struggles and questions you face as you practice it. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Tom Jablonski

    http://servantleadershipblog.com/servant-leadership/blog/index.htm

  2. Great article! And I think you are selling yourself a little short. I’ve responded by a posting of my own. http://todaysleader.blogspot.com/

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