Ever served under a leader who WAS the obstacle to getting things done in the company? Servant-leaders, instead, are those who use their power and influence in a serving manner to remove obstacles from their front-line people so that they can make progress. Max De Pree, who says the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality, and the last is to say thank you, also says that “in between, the leader is a servant.”

“Servant” means “under-rower”, or the people who were in the bottom of the ship, making it go, while living in the worst conditions of all on board, and unnoticed by others. I’m not saying that you need to take a vow of poverty or be a martyr in any way! But here’s something practical and symbolic that you can do. As soon as you develop an organization chart, invert it with you at the bottom of the hierarchy. From that position, you boost all who report to you through being a cheerleader, supporter, and encourager. You approach your people with a How Can I Help? posture. This may take your people by surprise at first (be ready to field questions!) and then they’ll see it as refreshing. A leader without an agenda, other than helping them be the best they can be? Wow!

Bill Flint fleshes out what servant leadership look like in a leader’s life, and I’ll add my commentary to it:

  • People behave the way they do because we as leaders behave the way we do  If we want to change their behavior, we have to change our behavior first. If you want to see a crew of employees helping each other being successful instead of just looking out for Number One, you must serve first.
  • Leadership is about helping your people discover and reach their potential. And what an honor this is! No one you lead is at their 100% capacity yet, but through your stretching them and encouraging them, they will get closer to it under your watch. Be patient and show grace for missteps. Find joy in every one of their successes, like a father/mother watching their child take their first steps! And by the way, expanding your employee benefits also helps get them to the fullest potential outside of work.
  • It is up to leaders to create the environment that allows people to thrive not fall. When you have an employee on the brink of being fired, the first place to look is in the mirror, to see if you have done everything possible to set them up for success. When two team members are in conflict, you stepping in to push them together for resolution is serving the whole company. When there is confusion about the vision or a certain procedure, and you give it clarity, there’s a better chance of everyone hitting targets. If there is a resource that will help employees be more efficient, buy it for them. Leaders create environments; followers make choices within those environments.
  • Leaders must transfer ownership for the work and results to those who do the work. You might even be the owner of the business, but those on the front lines have to see themselves as owners for them to completely buy-in to your vision. Lead collaboration meetings, but talk last. Pull out the best ideas and validate the suggestions you will run with. Share leadership: Release the keys to the kingdom as they demonstrate more and more responsibility. It’s the Dirty Shoulders Principle (from Gil McGregor): servant leaders are always lifting people up and letting them stand tall on their shoulders.
  • You cannot have your people waiting on you to tell them what to do. That makes you the bottleneck, not the servant leader. First of all, don’t keep people waiting on a decision or a permission for them to keep moving forward. Then, employ their diverse skills and give them opportunities to lead and make things better. You just shape the clay.
  • Leaders today must become a coach: caring for, teaching, modeling behavior, and building relationships with those they lead. It’s the most winsome type of leadership. Coaches want their players to get to the highest level of success.
  • You must be developing the “right kind of new leaders.” Sacrifice some of your budget to train your high-potentials to be servant leaders themselves, who will multiply your influence. Show them how to incorporate Larry Spears’s characteristics for developing servant-leaders: (Spears is president/CEO of the Robert Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership)

          Empathy: accepting people as is, and recognizing them for their special/unique spirits; assuming good intentions for  coworkers, not rejecting tem as people

         Healing: helping others who have emotional hurts to make them whole

         Foresight: understanding the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequences of a decision for the future

        Persuasion: seeking to convince others not coerce compliance

I can’t say the word “servant-leader” and the word “selfish” in the same sentence because of how opposite they are. Do things for others at your own personal expense while in leadership. Be willing to subordinate your own will, interests, desires, and benefits to the higher purpose of people-empowerment.  Be willing to sacrifice money, possessions, comfort, reputation, or the right to have your own way in service of your team.  It’s not about you; it’s about them.

Leaders are bestowed power for one use: to serve others. Those who do come out the winner in the long run.

It’s my calling to develop leaders! One way I do so is through my mini-books. I just released my fourth book Leading with Super-Vision, which will teach you how to craft, cast, and carry a compelling vision for your team. Pick up a copy for $10 at https://www.paulcasey.org/leading-with-super-vision/

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