Serving others breaks you free from the shackles of self
and self-absorption that choke out
the joy of living.
James C. Hunter, The Servant
The word service generally carries with it some very negative connotations. The concept of leadership has only a slightly better reputation. Many of us have been exposed to the term “servant leader,” and tend to think of it in a church or religious setting. However, servant leadership is not confined to any particular or peculiar setting.
Servant leadership is a specific mindset which affects how you view and deal with the world around you, how you lead your own life, and how you lead others. Now, I know what you are thinking. “I am not a leader, so this doesn’t really apply to me.” Au contraire, mon ami!
We are all leaders in some aspect of our lives, and often in several different roles. First and foremost, you lead and manage yourself. You lead your families and friends. You influence and lead people at work, even when you hold no leadership title. Someone is always watching your behavior, trying to figure out who you really are, and will likely imitate some of what you do if they deem you a success or a role model. This is exactly how we all learn to function in society. You watch and learn, you imitate, you keep what works and discard the rest. So, like it or not, title or no, you, my friend are a leader. The choice that you must now make is what kind of leader you be or become.
There are a few specific characteristics that apply to a servant leader. Well, they should probably apply to most leaders, but we are targeting “servants” specifically for today’s discussion.
1. Ego-less. Servant leaders work at being other-serving, rather than self-serving. Many people who rise to the top in their field tend to be driven there by our own ego or self-esteem. Servant leaders lead from a position of strength and not ego. hip forces you to put your ego aside for the sake of others. Servant leaders know that the mission, goal, vision, well-being of others, pushing people to their fullest potential is about others, not about them.
2. Perceptive. Servant leaders search for the good and help to bring out the best in others. They work to bring these qualities out in other people, even when people are reluctant, or do not notice them in themselves. It is strange phenomenon that other can often see qualities, gifts and talents blossoming in us long before we even begin to suspect them.
3. Educators. Servant leaders are teachers. They are consummate learners and readers. In service to other people, to their the mission and the their organizations, they teach and share what they know, rather than hoarding their knowledge for their own personal advancement or gain.
4. Empowering. Servant leaders empower other individuals. Servant leaders work at giving their power away. They know that to help other people reach their greatest potential, they need to give them an increasingly broader range of responsibilities, while at the same time, continuing to provide their people with a safety net, a backboard/backstop in case someone misses the mark the first time or two.
5. Congratulatory. Servant leaders know that to grow other individuals into the best and most mature versions of themselves requires:
- Celebrating all successes, no matter how small
- Pushing people into the limelight, even when they don’t want to go
- Sharing the spotlight if they cannot avoid it.
- Helping to shoulder the blame if the project is less than expected
6. Change agents. Servant leaders know they are “on stage” all of the time; especially to their teammates. They understand what M. Gandhi meant when he said that we should be the change that we seek in the world. Servant leaders know that they are at the center of the change. In order to help move the change and re-mold individuals, they must continually demonstrate the behavior they wish to see in others…24-7.
7. Practical. Servant leaders are realists. They are always conscientious about the fact that their time, talents and resources are finite. Because of these limitations, they actively pour themselves into building up the next wave of leaders. As Peter Drucker said, “There is no success without a successor.”
8. Know themselves. Servant leaders are masters of themselves, their emotions and their resources. Servant leaders are master teachers of human nature. They teach people how to control and manage themselves and their resources. This gives rise to a new leader’s mindset that makes people feel committed to be and do their best, all the time, just like their coach-mentor-servant leader.
Being a servant leader probably isn’t going to get you a lot of publicity and fanfare. It may not even secure that next promotion you have had your eyes on. But, that’s not the only thing we are here to accomplish, is it?
Servant leaders know that the qualities of grace, generosity, munificence and mission-mindedness that they pass on to the next generation are invaluable.
And, more importantly, they are fully aware that service is its own sufficient reward.
What additions would you make to this list?