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Servant Leadership, its Principles, and Examples in the Workplace

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The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. ~Robert K. Greenleaf

What is Servant Leadership?

The phrase "Servant Leadership" was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf that he first published in the 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader.

In that essay, Greenleaf said, servant leadership begins with the natural tendency that one wants to serve, and therefore, a servant leader is a servant first. The primary goal of a servant leader is the growth and well-being of the people. It is different from traditional leadership and does not believe in accumulation and exercise of power but to put others' needs first.

As Greenleaf said, the central thought of putting others' needs first is what drives servant leadership. Servant leaders revolve around the philosophy that it the team that wins. Servant leaders believe in serving others, building an environment where they can thrive. Servant leaders are committed to service and are selfless. They do not get overwhelmed but stay grounded in both success and failure. One can also see it as being compassionate to serve people to empower them and lead them to reach their full potential.

Ask Why?

Servant leadership is not a checklist to follow. Leaders must be sincere to practice this leadership style. And it must start by asking themselves why they want to be servant leaders.

Sinek Simon, the leadership guru in his iconic TED Talk, ‚ÄėHow Leaders Inspire Action,‚Äô states, it is critical to ask ‚ÄúWhy‚ÄĚ. Why do you want to lead in a particular way? The desire to lead must come from sincere introspection. For Servant Leaders, it comes from the willingness to put others first, just like any parent does for their children.

The Principles of Servant Leadership

A leader could be anyone, from your CEO to the team managers. Therefore practicing a type of leadership is a personal choice. For any leadership practices, it is essential to follow a few principles to get clarity and direction. If you are a servant leader or want to build your team with servant leadership, here are a few principles to start with.

1. Active listening


It all starts with listening to your team. Invest your time consciously and listen to your team without interrupting. Listening to every team member actively gives you new perspectives and helps you find the dots for a more structured and inclusive strategy that benefits all. It all comes down to put your attention to the needs of your team with the right attitude.

Related: Active Listening; its Skills and Importance in the Workplace

2. Empathy


Empathy has its power. When you are empathetic and compassionate, you understand your team at the human level. For servant leadership, being empathetic means understanding others' emotions without any judgment or criticism. According to studies done by the Center for Creative Leadership, empathy is positively related to job performance and is a core factor in building relationships.

Servant leaders put themselves in the other person's place consciously. As Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird famously said: "You can never understand someone unless you understand their point of view, climb in that person's skin, or stand and walk in that person's shoes."

Related: 5 Crucial Steps To Building Empathy In The Workplace

3. Self-Awareness


Larry Spears, former CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, listed self-awareness as one of the critical principles for servant leadership based on his conversations and readings with Robert K. Greenleaf, Grandfather of Servant Leadership.

He says self-awareness strengthens the servant leader. It helps in understanding issues relating to values, work ethics, and power. It allows a servant leader to be able to view situations from an interconnected balanced point of view. Self-awareness gives you the ability to analyze and make decisions objectively.

4. Positive Influence


The way we do things or conduct ourselves has a lot to do with the influences that we have in our day-to-day lives. Like the influence of positive surroundings and people can lift our mind and our overall well-being. A servant leader influences and directs its team in a more positive way. They set examples for others to follow. One can only thrive in an environment that allows them to push themselves. Servant leaders make sure to form a workplace culture with inclusivity and effective company values.

5. Caring


Every employee in an organization brings their baggage and their good, bad experiences. The employees from a toxic work environment are often skeptical and find it difficult to gel with the new work culture. This can create an imbalance in the overall team dynamics. Servant leaders are quick to merge those gaps and make everyone feel comfortable. Also, as we all know, work can drain us both physically and psychologically. It is difficult for many to bring a work-life balance. Effective leadership keeps these aspects in mind and provides the employees with flexible work hours or programs to balance their work and personal commitments.

6. Assessment


Leadership assessment is important for the future of the organization. It is vital to understand the leadership qualities of the team members to assign them future leadership roles. Understanding the team members' positive traits gives a leader a clear perspective to identify future leaders. Servant leaders create goals and innovative strategies to bring out these traits to push the limits and motivate employees to take charge. The idea is to help organizations maximize their leadership and place employees in an authoritative position where they thrive and drive business.

7. Visionary


Servant leaders are visionary. They are quick to find the weak links in the organization. They believe in the fact that everyone has potential and therefore push them to boost their recessive traits. They believe in empowering the team together to create better results. Their sense of vision helps in organizational transformation and overcoming uncertainties of the future.

8. Supervision


Supervision means interacting with the team regularly and updating team members or reviewing their work. Supervision gives clarity to the ongoing work processes and taking the right measures to overcome any challenges. Servant leaders effectively engage and involve people. They actively participate in strategies and programs to achieve individual, team, and organizational goals.

9. Commitment


Servant leaders are committed to helping others realize their dreams and create a work environment that fuels that energy. They keep the employees motivated by showing the utmost determination and commitment to their work. And that is how they reap all the organizational benefits. Believe it or not, commitment and work ethics are communicable. Our sense of commitment can double with our leader's intervention and show us examples to follow.

10. Building Community


Why is it important to build a healthy relationship with our team members? Good relationships build the community and improve the performance of the organization. Human resources are not enough if you do not know how to utilize their true potential. One right way to do that is to start a close community that looks after each other. It needs skills to be the glue that keeps the team intact. Servant leaders keep the team together by building the community strong. They believe that it is the people who keep the boat sailing, and it is they who can overcome the uncertain waves.

Related: Types of Team Building Every company must explore

Examples of Servant leadership in the Workplace

Leading by example

The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example. ~John Wooden

Servant leaders take charge. For example, when a team member fails to complete a task, the servant leader joins hand and leads them as an equal member of the team rather than only supervising. This defines servant leadership. They set examples for others to equally participate and support the team in times of need.

Encourage collaboration

The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team. ~Phil Jackson

Teamwork is the dream work. And better teamwork stems from active collaboration. A servant leader believes in collaboration and encourages the team to collaborate more. They conduct townhalls or regular meetings and emphasize the importance of cooperation.

They Believe in Feedback

It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it, analyze it, and appropriately act on it.~Stephen Covey

Servant leaders respect everyone's opinion and seek genuine feedback. They gather feedback to improve, analyze, and monitor all the activities in the workplace. They advocate the importance of feedback and builds a culture that believes in it. They empower everyone in the room by giving constructive feedback and keeping tabs on the work processes for the organization's overall improvement.

Final Note!

As you can see, servant leadership is all about serving others and rooting for them when they need you. We follow our leaders, not for them but for ourselves. When you fulfill that need, you build undying loyalty and trust.

Do comment on your views on servant leadership. Let us know why it is important in today's time.

This article is written by Anjan Pathak, a Co-founder and CTO at Vantage Circle. He is an HR technology enthusiast, very passionate about employee wellness, and actively participates in corporate culture growth. He is an avid reader and likes to be updated in the latest knowhows of Human Resource. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com

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