Servant Leadership in Action

Servant Leadership

What Is Servant Leadership?

By Ken Blanchard

What do you think of when you hear the term servant leadership? Do you picture a workplace culture where managers and direct reports work side by side, set goals, collaborate on projects, solve problems and celebrate victories together? Or do you picture a chaotic scene from a movie where the inmates are running the prison?

If you don’t understand servant leadership, it may be because you think people can’t lead and serve at the same time. But they can, if they recognize that there are two kinds of leadership involved in servant leadership: strategic and operational.

Strategic leadership has to do with vision and direction. It’s the leadership aspect of servant leadership. Leadership is about going somewhere. If you and your people don’t know where you are going, your leadership doesn’t matter. A compelling vision ensures everyone is going in the same direction. Once the organization has a compelling vision, they can set goals and define strategic initiatives that help people know what to focus on right now. The traditional hierarchical pyramid is effective for this part of servant leadership because, while the leader should involve experienced people in helping to shape direction, the ultimate responsibility remains with the leader and cannot be delegated to others.

 

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” –Theodore Hesburgh

 

As soon as people are clear on where they are going, the hierarchical pyramid is philosophically turned upside-down. Now the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for operational leadership, which has to do with implementation. The question now is: How do we live according to the vision and accomplish the establish goals? Implementation is the servant aspect of servant leadership. It includes policies, systems, and leader behaviors that flow from senior management to frontline employees—and make it possible for people in the organization to live according to the vision and values and accomplish short-term goals and initiatives.

 

Create a Servant Leadership Culture

A Leader’s Responsibility

 

Max DePree makes it seem so simple:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. -Max DePree

Let’s break down the wisdom in this quote:

A SERVANT.  A LEADER.

Previously, I shared the nine qualities of a servant leader.  The servant leader has characteristics of both a servant and a leader.  The characteristics are blended together in a harmonious balance.  The result is a servant leader we can all admire.

 

“A servant leader harmoniously blends characteristics of leadership with service.” -Skip Prichard

 

DEFINE REALITY

Defining reality is a huge part of leadership. You want to follow a leader who is honest about the current situation you face as an organization.

A leader should be optimistic but still realistic. If a company is nearing bankruptcy, you want a leader who understands the gravity of the situation—but not one who is frozen by that reality. You want someone who can navigate through the storm and lead everyone to the best possible outcome.

9 Qualities of the Servant Leader

Photo by Michael W. May on flickr.

Leading With Others in Mind

At first blush, you may think a servant leader literally takes on the role of a servant. Taken to an extreme, that definition would look like this:

As you pull into work, the leader meets you at your car, opens your door, and welcomes you to the office.  Maybe the leader gets you coffee mid-morning and drops by in the afternoon to see if you need anything.  When you need assistance on a project, or maybe just someone to do the grunt work, there your leader is, waiting for you.

No, that isn’t servant leadership.

 

“Servant leaders lead with others in mind.” -Skip Prichard

 

Servant leadership is a blend and balance between leader and servant. You don’t lose leadership qualities when becoming a servant leader.

A servant leader is one who:

1. Values diverse opinions.

A servant leader values everyone’s contributions and regularly seeks out opinions.  If you must parrot back the leader’s opinion, you are not in a servant-led organization.

 

“Servant leaders regularly seek out opinions.” -Skip Prichard

 

2. Cultivates a culture of trust.

People don’t meet at the water cooler to gossip. Pocket vetoes are rejected.

 

“Servant leaders cultivate a culture of trust.” -Skip Prichard

 

3.  Develops other leaders.

 

The replication factor is so important.  It means teaching others to lead, providing opportunities for growth and demonstrating by example.  That means the leader is not always leading, but instead giving up power and deputizing others to lead.

 

“Servant leaders give up power and deputize others to lead.” -Skip Prichard

 

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4.  Helps people with life issues (not just work issues).

It’s important to offer opportunities for personal development beyond the job.  Let’s say you run a company program to lose weight, or lower personal debt, or a class on etiquette.  None of these may help an immediate corporate need, but each may be important.