Servant Leadership guru, Robert K. Greenleaf, asserted “awareness” is a critical element of successful servant leadership.
He 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.”
At first glance, leaders who are “reasonably disturbed” yet experience “inner serenity” seems incompatible. However, inner serenity comes from practicing awareness of both self and others. Let’s explore…
- Self-Awareness and Awareness of Others
The purpose of awareness, from Greenleaf’s perspective, is to fulfill the needs of others and to persuade those being led toward the common good. This journey begins with self-awareness, and that journey can only be charted when we successfully answer questions like: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” “How will I get there?” etc. As we become more aware of self, we are in position to be more aware of the needs of others. We can then help those within our circles of influence become aware of self and others, and so on.
- Awareness That Something Needs to Be Done
Awareness of others is not a one-dimensional sense. When we become aware of a problem, issue, bottleneck, etc., we don’t sit on it. Instead, we actively engage those we lead and apply the scope of servant leader characteristics as a means of holistic development. This is not easy for the busy leader. Then again, a leader who is too busy for those he or she leads is just that—a busy leader, not a servant leader. Ironically, the busy leader typically creates much more systemic stress because it is impossible to be aware of what needs to be done when constantly running to simply keep up.
- Servant Leaders Work Through Correcting Things that are Wrong
Since servant leaders are as Greenleaf notes, “servants first,” as opposed to “leaders first,” the true servant leader refuses to ignore what is broken. He or she will not simply hope a situation resolve itself, but will proactively point out specific, observable behaviors or outcomes that fall short of desired performance. The attitude is not “I told you so.” Rather it is one of “because I want you to succeed…” or “because you are important to this organization…” that contributes to self-awareness versus self-doubt—or even cynicism.
Practicing self-awareness in self and others takes time. Depending on the role you play, you may or may not have that luxury. Do not lose heart. If you are aware that you are too busy, communicate that to those within your circle of influence and invite them through their self-awareness to create a complementary environment that proactively contextualizes awareness for the greater good.