If you are interested in getting up to date with the how and why of this leadership style, check out our article Summarising Servant Leadership .
Today, we are going to focus on the positive impacts of this leadership style, enabling you to decide whether servant leadership is the right fit for you, your team and your business. We are elaborating on eight enriching results of the servant leadership style.
1) Decisions made for the organisation
“The secret of institution building is to be able to weld a team of such people by lifting them up to grow taller than they would otherwise be.“
A common misconception about Servant Leadership is that the leader will put the individual before the organisation. It is important to understand that putting the individual first for the sake of serving that person, could detriment the wider team or organisation as a whole. This is where the Servant Leader must be able to think of the bigger picture, of serving the team and the organisation as a whole.
Imagine a member of your team asking for an extra day off each week, without impacting their wage. You weigh this up and think about how serving your Team member in this way may positively impact their morale, performance in work, give them personal development time and realistically, you could probably do this for them without massively impacting the organisation financially – it is only one person after all.
However, what happens when another team member asks for the same and then another? Could you do this for everyone in the company? If your organisation cannot sustain this, it will fail. If you refuse to do this for the other team members, morale plummets, trust in you dissolves and your hard earnt credibility is called into question. Not to mention, by giving your initial team member time off, you have missed an opportunity to encourage more efficient time management techniques to be developed by themselves.
It is in our peoples best interests for the organisation to achieve, to effectively serve as many people as possible, we need to focus on the success of the organisation, the safeguarding of jobs and increasing opportunities to develop. This in turn, serves more customers and helps to keep the business profitable.
A sobering example of a Servant Leader putting the business at risk for the people can be found in The Bass Handbook of Leadership. A US company called Maiden Mills saw one of their factories burnt down. During this time the insurance money was used to pay employees their full wage whilst the Factory was rebuilt. They were praised for this approach and although morale was at an all time high, bankruptcy ensued for their company as their competitors managed to get ahead. Had the Leader invested the money in securing an alternative factory, they may have survived and kept some of their people in jobs. – An ethical dilemma for sure and whilst it was the nice thing to do for their employees at the time, would a Servant Leader have safeguarded the company first?
Remember, when the organisation wins, the people win. You can serve more people by serving the needs of the organisation. Create balance between serving individuals, the team and the organisation to build trust, credibility and foster growth. An Operations Manager once said to me “My outlook is this, not everyone will like me or what I have to say – but no-one will say I have been unfair or treated some more favourably than others. If I can help I will but the needs of the business come first.”
2) Saying ‘No’ is easier and fair
Linked directly to the above point of serving the organisation, Servant Leadership puts you in an optimal position to say ‘No’ fairly and take the sting out of its delivery – it all comes down to intent and purpose.
When you say ‘No’ to someone, Servant Leadership provides a credible and respectable answer, it isn’t about ego or your personal agenda, it is about the success of the operation and fairness for the teams and customers. Of course, we need to look internally here and ask ourselves: “Are my intentions honest and credible? Do I demonstrate my service to the team and organisation in everything I do?” – If the answer to this question is ‘no’ – we may have issues getting people to see our part in the bigger picture.
It is important that we discuss the reasons for the ‘No’ and where possible offer either an alternative or the desired solution at a later date. Below are 3 quick ways to say ‘no’ whilst limiting the sting:
- I can’t agree to that, it wouldn’t be fair for the rest of the team and as a business, we couldn’t justify it long-term. What else could we do to support you?
- I cannot agree at this time as our priority is achieving project X. We do however complete it next month and I would have more availability for you then – can you use this time to build a business case for me?
- At this time I don’t see how this serves our customers well, could you help me understand more on how this will add value? If not, we may need to consider alternatives.
Consistency is key here, we must use the same rational in order to avoid playing favourites and losing our credibility. By being open and honest with our reasons and exploring the proposal in more detail, we are able to coach, lead and develop our Followers. Who knows, exploring an initial ‘bad idea’ may uncover an absolute gem.
3) Team Development
One of the main purposes of Servant Leadership is to help us develop our team by understanding their current skill sets, goals and empowering them achieve. A great leader looks to develop people, even if this development sees them move on from the team and company due to their success.
When discussing who a Servant Leader is, Greenleaf asked:
“…do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
We can see from this question, Greenlead believes the purpose of a leader is to create more leaders. We can do this effectively by developing our teams – which is great news for the individuals, the company and its customers. What is the alternative? A group of people unable to make their own decisions without a process? A team that has had its confidence damaged so much that they are unable to resolve their own issues?
Servant Leadership doesn’t mean doing everything for someone, it means really listening to people, building accountability and helping them to problem solve. In his book The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier discusses the importance of listening and asking open questions to help people find their own answers. As coaches, we can sometimes fall into the trap of being ‘the Advice Monster’, which doesn’t actually create a solution, we just think it does! Consider the old saying “Give a person a fish and they are fed for a day. Teach them to fish and they are fed for a life time.” – are we effectively developing our people or are we taking away their autonomy under the guise of service?
One of the best ways to develop people is avoid giving advice all together, even avoid questions alluding to what we think the answer is! We need to engage our curiosity and only ask questions based on what has been said, in order to understand and summarise their answers. This enables others to reflect and find their own way, developing their resourcefulness and problem solving skills.
Get curious. Ask questions and make a conscious decision to listen. Think about the words they are and aren’t using. How is it being said? Is what we can hear congruent with their body language? When starting from scratch, consider a SWOT analysis tool.
4) Encourages empathy
“Men grow taller when those who lead them empathize and when they are accepted for what they are, even though their performance may be judged critically in terms of what they are capable of doing. Leaders who empathize and who fully accept those who go with them on this basis are more likely to be trusted.”
– Greenleaf , The Servant as Leader on Empathy and Acceptance.
Greenleaf expects the Servant Leader to always empathise and accept the Follower whilst at the same time refusing to accept someone’s work when it is below the expected standard. This is an important balance as if we are 100% empathetic and do not set expectations, we are likely to get walked over and have an underperforming team. Go the other way and we may irreparably damage our relationship with our Followers alongside their morale. Similar to coaching, empathy encourages us to be curious and understand what’s happening with our Follower instead of jumping to conclusions. This in turn will build rapport, as our team begin to trust that we are there to support them.
By merging empathy with setting expectations on performance, our approach will be seen as fair, consistent and based on supporting your team. This will build on our credibility and our teams level of engagement.
We need to make a conscious decision to be curious and a conscious effort to understand our teams. In his book The Five Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey said “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – as difficult as it can be, if we tell our mind that we don’t know the answer, that our beliefs and assumptions may be wrong and that in order to lead a person, we need to first understand them – then we realise that what this person has to say is valuable. When we listen and stay out of judgement, our ability to engage and develop people grows.
5) Leaders become seekers
“One does not awake each morning with the compulsion to reinvent the wheel. But if one is servant, either leader or follower, one is always searching, listening, expecting that a better wheel for these times is in the making.”
As a Servant Leader, we must constantly search for ways to help our people and the organisation to gain an edge. Researching into ways that may help with efficiency, engagement and improvements from an individual level to an organisational one – is one of the principles that makes a Servant Leader effective. The fact that you are here, gives a good indication that you are already on the path!
Like in most things, ego needs to take a backseat here. We don’t have to be the one to create something or come up with a new product or process. There is real power in listening to others, raising their ideas up and collaborating. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, whilst it’s great if you do! Seeking isn’t about recognition, its about thinking how we can best serve our Followers and our organisation. As Leaders, we need to pass on the recognition for others and take real pride in our actions – self-worth comes from within.
Mindset is key. Carl Jung said “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t know but need to know. Learn from them.” – There is a phenomenal amount of resources available in the world, get creative and engage others in the process. Involve people across your organisation, get coached and mentored yourself and attend events where subject matter experts are speaking. There is always something to learn.
6) Engaged and Empowered
“The servant always accepts and empathizes, never rejects. The servant as leader always empathizes, always accepts the person but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.”
Lets break this down into three different Leadership styles. The first one, not described in the quote above but seen within Leadership environments is one that doesn’t accept or empathise with the person and rejects the work shown to them.
How is that Follower feeling?
The likely outcome of this is that the Followers morale becomes so low that their work will suffer further and they may even leave (and bring others with them) creating a costly exercise in regards to hiring, training and reputation management.
Looking at the Servant part of the quote, this leader is always empathetic and accepting of their Followers but never challenges unacceptable results.
Take a moment to consider how the Follower is feeling now.
They will likely be feeling:
The likely outcome here is that whilst they may feel supported, they wont be challenged or stretched to their potential. This can lead to disengagement, boredom and taking advantage of their situation.
Greenleaf said that the Servant Leader would be empathetic, accepting but still expect high standards of work and ensure that their Follwers understood that.
Take a moment to consider how the Follower is feeling now.
They will likely be feeling:
- Appropriately Challenged
We talk about engagement all the time here at Develop The Edge, so we wont get into the statistics on why you want your teams to be engaged, we will say however, there isn’t a downside.
Consider a Followers needs more than their feelings. If you accept substandard work, the only thing you’re serving is your organisation, on a plate to your competitors. Feedback, when it comes from an honest, factual and empathetic place is key to helping people grow. When our teams truly believe our feedback comes from a place of support, they are more likely to be onboard with it. Be tactful with feedback, ensure it’s coming from a supportive place instead of an accusatory one.
7) Long-term vision
“The very essence of leadership, going out ahead to show the way, derives from more than usual openness to inspiration. Why would anybody accept the leadership of another except that the other sees more clearly where it is best to go?”
Servant Leaders are required to develop foresight if they are going to serve their Followers, organisation and customers. By developing motivating mission statements and strategic goals, we can help to secure the success of the organisation by giving our Followers an inspiring goal to achieve.
Detachment and foresight are essential leadership traits to work on, use tools such as ORAPAPA to ensure you have considered all aspects, risks and opportunities when making decisions. Our experiences will build on our foresight abilities but tools can help where we have had limited experience.
“Foresight is the “lead” that the leader has. Once he loses this lead and events start to force his hand, he is leader in name only. He is not leading; he is reacting to immediate events and he probably will not long be a leader.”
Use Scenario planning to see what the future could look like. In their book ‘The Strategy Workout’, Bernard Ross and Clare Segal discuss the differences between Conventional Planning and Scenario Planning as:
8) Ego Eliminator
“Servant-leadership is not about a personal quest for power, prestige, or material rewards. Instead, from this perspective, leadership begins with a true motivation to serve others.” – Dr. Ann McGee-Cooper and Duane Trammell.
The first person the Ego Eliminator impacts is the Leader. To be effective with this Leadership style, we need to put our thirst for praise, power and promotions to the side. We may in fact still obtain all of the above, specifically because we have put them to the side…but that isn’t the focus point of Servant Leadership. We have to legitimately want to serve others and help them succeed, to put the mission above our own needs. People will know if you are in it for yourself.
The second group to be impacted by the Ego Eliminator are the Followers themselves. When we have a reputation of being a Servant Leader, those around we know that everything we say and do will be to either develop people or secure the success of the organisation. Once we have built this reputation and relationship with our Followers, the feedback will typically be well received as our Followers egos will not be as easily on the defensive. Consider knowing beyond question that someone wants the best for you, then that person offers you constructive feedback on your work, are you more or less likely to have a bruised ego than someone giving you the feedback that isnt invested in your development and that has a reputation for being out for themselves?
Be honest, open and consistent with our approach. Take ownership of our teams failures in order to prevent them in the future and pass on praise to lift others up.
“Servant leaders encourage skill and moral development in followers. They are sensitive to the needs of organizational stakeholders and hold themselves accountable for their actions (Graham, 1991).”
In this article we have reviewed 8 great reasons to celebrate Servant Leadership:
- Decisions are made for the organisation
- Saying ‘No’ is easier and fair
- Team Development
- Encourages Empathy
- Leaders become Seekers
- Engaged and Empowered
- Long-Term Vision
- Ego Eliminator
Do you think we missed anything? Join in the conversation @DevelopTheEdge or @Engage_Leaders
Resources for Servant Leadership are available below this article.
We are keen to hear what value has this article added to your day?
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