The concept of servant-leadership is not a new one. The term, however, was first used by Robert Greenleaf in his paper, The Servant as Leader. Here is an excerpt:
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.
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?
In his book, Paradigm Flip, Ben Lichtenwalner describes the traits of servant Leadership in an acronym: SERVANT (p. 170).
Selflessness is about putting the needs of others before yourself. Specifically, we speak here of putting the needs of those you serve first.
In order to lead another person, you need to know what it feels like to walk a mile in their shoes…Leaders who lose the ability to empathize lose the ability to lead.
As Tony Hsieh and revolutionary leaders of all types faced detractors, it would have been easy to say, “we don’t really need a unique culture”…If they had done that, nothing would have changed. Servant Leaders must be resolute in their mission and actions.
Nothing undermines a leader’s mission faster than a failure of his or her character…The well-rounded leader is one with strong virtues.
If you want loyalty and commitment from others, they must know that you are candid, sincere about your intentions, and opposed to practicing dirty politics.
In order for organizations to thrive, their leaders must always be on the lookout for great new ideas. This is why Servant Leaders must be open-minded.
A major failure of leaders today is an emphasis on short-term benefits without regard for the long-term costs…Servant Leaders maximize the sustainability of results. This sustainability of results requires a great deal of planning for the future.
Position or authority may create the opportunity to lead but they certainly don’t make a leader. Becoming (and staying!) a thoughtful, servant leader is a difficult task. The mechanics of leadership include managing bottom lines and tasks; but, the art of servant-leadership is so much more. In that role, we have the opportunity, even the responsibility, to help people become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants. A great reminder for us all.