Last week, I found myself in a conversation about leading and what it means to be a servant leader. I’ve been reflecting, and I look forward to your thoughts on this topic.
You have already committed to being a high-impact and caring, authentic leader. So let’s talk about how that aligns with the conversations about Servant Leadership. As a concept, Servant Leadership says that your job is to make your team succeed. It means putting others first and being empathetic. Leading by example, making good decisions that benefit the greater good, being ethical, and having a long-term focus.
I believe that the concept of Servant Leadership rose into favor to countermand the “bad boss” syndrome. Bosses who focused solely on themselves and were ready to fudge the results to look better to gain favor. The bosses who used employees and, in the end, hurt their companies—often after gaining big payouts. Bad. Obviously, bad.
But that’s not who you are. You’re trying to balance the complex role of leading in a less hierarchical, more team-based environment. Staffing is short, and skill sets and experience on the job are typically even shorter. Given that context, how can we look at ways to serve in a leadership way that is sustainable for you?
As with most ideas, Servant Leadership is great until it is overplayed. If you know me, you know that this idea of overplaying strengths is a favorite curiosity of mine. In my opinion, servant leadership has been overplayed.
You are leading an organization that requires certain things to happen, certain behaviors to be followed, and certain values to be held to thrive. That’s the big goal—to create and sustain a thriving organization. That means you are a servant to the organization, a servant to your role and responsibilities, a servant to your clients, a servant to your team, and a servant to your community. You are a leader—maybe the leader—accountable for meeting results with each of these constituencies.
You are leading.
You are creating a compelling, (read here: actionable) commonly (note the word common) held vision or goal. Read that again: You are creating a compelling, commonly held vision.
You must be in service to your team in order for the goal to be not just compelling, but also actionable.
You must be in service to your team to do the work that makes the goal feel owned by everyone on the team.
You must be in service to the team to know what skills and experience are required for goal achievement. Not only that, but you must create, develop, hire, or let go of team members so that the goal can be achieved.
You create alignment.
You drive innovation.
You ascertain risk and make difficult decisions in which you balance goal requirements, resources, markets, and team capability and capacity.
All this requires a mindset of service. It does feel to me, however, that the word “servant” sounds primarily focused downward, expecting the team to move the goal upward. My experience tells me that when the idea of servanthood is overplayed, I find exhausted leaders and entitled followers. We want to continually balance the requirement for leadership with the need to be in service.
And I might add, as leaders, you must also be a little bit selfish. If you are not thriving, there is no way for the team to thrive.
As always, I want to encourage you. Leading is a hard job. And yet, I am guessing that most days, you wouldn’t have it any other way! I am proud of you.