Robert Greenleaf popularized the phrase “Servant Leadership” with his book by that title published in 1970. He observed that being a Servant Leader started with a desire to serve the needs of others, and that this desire to serve was the person’s first priority. These kinds of leaders possessed ten common characteristics which became the ten principles for Servant Leadership.
It makes sense that one of the best ways we serve others is by listening to them. A Servant Leader attempts to listen actively, with an open mind, and gives the gift of acknowledging worth to others by treating them as people who have something worth hearing.
A Servant Leader attempts to see things from the other person’s perspective. To borrow from Steven Covey’s writings, he/she seeks first to understand and then to be understood. This is the opposite of what we often see in the marketplace of ideas where one of the most common practices is to suggest in covert and overt ways that those who oppose you have absolutely no legitimacy.
Servant Leaders don’t resort to positional authority or coercion as a means to accomplishment. Instead, they persuade others to follow them. This approach demonstrates that the leader trusts the followers to come to the right conclusion when given the right information in the right way. As the leader extends trust, it causes followers to have more trust in the leader.
Greenleaf said that awareness is both an awakener and a disturber. As the leader becomes aware of something, it is like an awakening; but it is also a disturber because he/she realizes that something has to be done. This principle of awareness applies to both self-awareness and an awareness of others. The Servant Leader is one who awakens others to new possibilities by asking questions such as, “Have you ever considered…?”
Greenleaf considered this to be the most powerful principle. The Servant Leader recognizes that people have the power to make wholeness out of brokenness. Perhaps more importantly, the Servant Leader accepts the responsibility to be a healer. Healing is, in some ways, the result of some of the other principles such as listening, empathy, awareness , and even persuasion—in that it implies treating people with dignity.
It’s helpful to remember that Greenleaf saw Servant Leadership as a philosophy of leadership that guided the leader’s daily decisions and interactions. At first glance, the term Servant Leader seems like an oxymoron. Are you the servant or the leader? Can you be both? On the other hand, it’s intriguing to think about what kind of difference this type of leader could make in your organization, isn’t it?
Stay tuned for the other five characteristics of a Servant Leader later this week!