There are many types of leaders within a company setting. Some take on leadership roles by virtue of their assigned job role and others lead on a de-facto basis. Some leaders are very authoritative to almost the level of dictatorship. The leadership style that resonates the most with me is that of servant leader. “Servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. According to Greenleaf, a director of Management Development at AT&T, “a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.” This is in contrast to other leaders who seek leadership in order to gain wealth, power, and practice self-aggrandizement. Success is not about the leader, it is about achieving goals that benefit the organization and keep employees motivated and satisfied.
While servant leaders put the needs of the company or employees first, they are not subservient. Rather, this leader helps employees to grow, to learn to lead, and to feel empowered. To succeed, servant leaders need to ask themselves the following questions:
What does my team need from me?
The answer to this question may include thorough training, certain resources. The team members may also need less tangible items such as someone to listen to them, some empathy, compassion, fairness, and some trust in them. A servant leader is available to offer feedback and mentor staff so that they will learn and grow.
How can I remove obstacles for my team members?
Obstacles to the success of employees may include processes or procedures within the organization that need revising,
How can I increase employee engagement and confidence?
Employees feel more motivated when they receive a task and the resources and freedom to accomplish the task without being micromanaged by their leader. As the leader, you do need to be available to answer questions and provide guidance as needed. When workers feel connected, appreciated and supported, they will be happy in their roles and more likely to remain with the company.
How can I learn from my staff and others?
Regardless of their role in the organization, everyone brings something to the table and can add skills and perspective that you or another employee lack.
While a believer in the servant leadership model, I would be remiss to not discuss some of the challenges associated with this style. Servant leaders need to be careful not to over-step. While the goal is to help employees to succeed, one must be careful about not giving employees the impression that if they do not produce high-quality results or take the lazy way out, that the servant leader will step in to resolve any issues. Workers still need to take responsibility and not be allowed to take advantage of their leader. The boss is still the boss and there will be times that the leader will need to take a more authoritative role and make difficult decisions.
To learn from other servant leadership examples, take a look at Fred Smith of FedEx, who believes in taking care of his people first; Bill Marriott, and Howard Behar of Starbucks. Each of these leaders demonstrates authenticity, caring, community, and the importance of valuing and respecting employees.