Embrace a Servant Leadership Approach

What kind of leader are you? Are you a coach? Laissez-faire? Authoritative? Do you lead by example? Are you democratic or do you lay down the law? If you dig around the internet, you’ll find plenty of lists covering various styles; and each of those styles has its own set of pros and cons. We don’t need to spend time parsing those lists down because there’s one particular style that I’d like to encourage you to consider adopting as your own: Servant Leadership.

What does it mean to be a Servant Leader?

In 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term “servant-leader” saying “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.” Okay, so what does that mean for you and me in our corporate leadership roles? Let’s be clear: Servant leaders are not subservient. It’s not about relinquishing authority. Servant leaders focus on the growth and well-being of those in their organizations and community. It’s about identifying what others need to develop and perform to their full potential. The decisions you make and the policies you implement take into account the needs of your staff, your organization and your community.

What does Servant Leadership look like?

To be successful with this approach, you’re going to have to listen. Don’t just listen to your management-level peers; take the time to talk with folks throughout your organization from the top tier to the entry level. This will help you cultivate a better flow of ideas within your department and company. A flatter organizational structure (as opposed to the traditional top-down pyramid) will also create a sense of ownership within each member of the team – and that’s a good thing. You’re also going to need to embrace diversity. It’s not servant leadership if you’re listening to others parrot back your own ideas and opinions, or constantly nodding ascent to every idea (bright or not) you have. Encourage contributions and new ideas. Be receptive to differences of opinion. Be open to change. If “but we’ve always done it this way” whispers in the back of your mind, be prepared to respond, “but this way may be viable too.” A good servant leader is a mentor. Not everyone is suited to take on the role of department head or settle into the C-suite. Everyone on your staff, however, has the ability to develop and apply leadership skills whether that be as a project leader, the champion of a particular, single facet of the bigger picture, or in a more traditional management role. Develop leaders. Give your team members the opportunity to grow. Apply servant-leadership principles and watch those around you thrive!