What is Servant Leadership?

Last weekend we saw the NFL coaching staff on the sidelines dressed in camouflage and other clothing that celebrated the military, in recognition of the sacrifices made by Veterans as well as to celebrate Veteran’s Day.

With the Veteran’s Day in mind, the focus this week is on servant leadership … there is no greater demonstration of servant leadership than the service to one’s own country.

What is servant leadership?

Skip Prichard notes that a Servant Leader is one who:

    • Values diverse opinions: A servant leader values everyone’s contributions and regularly seeks out opinions.  If you must parrot back the leader’s opinion, you are not in a servant-led organization
    • Cultivates a culture of trust: People don’t meet at the water cooler to gossip. Pocket vetoes are rejected.
    • Develops other leaders: It means teaching others to lead, providing opportunities for growth and demonstrating by example.  That means the leader is not always leading, but instead giving up power and deputizing others to lead.
    • Helps people with life issues: It’s important to offer opportunities for personal development beyond the job.
    • Encourages: The hallmark of a servant leader is encouragement.  And a true servant leader says, “Let’s go do it,” not, “You go do it.”
    • Sells instead of tells: A servant leader is the opposite of a dictator. It’s a style all about persuading, not commanding.
    • Thinks you, not me: There’s a selfless quality about a servant leader.  Someone who is thinking only, “How does this benefit me?” is disqualified.
    • Thinks long-term: A servant leader is thinking about the next generation, the next leader, the next opportunity. That means a tradeoff between what’s important today versus tomorrow, and making choices to benefit the future.
    • Acts with humility: The leader doesn’t wear a title as a way to show who’s in charge, doesn’t think he’s better than everyone else, and acts in a way to care for others.  She may, in fact, pick up the trash or clean up a table.  Setting an example of service, the servant leader understands that it is not about the leader, but about others.

In summary, servant leadership is about putting the needs of others first and helping people develop and perform to their highest potential. In the Agile world we look to the role of Scrum Master to be a beacon of servant leadership. The Scrum Master puts the team needs first and has the responsibility for protecting the team from external noise that may distract from the planned activities for value delivery while also fostering their growth and development.

Writer James Hunter explains how to become or hone your Servant Leadership approach in a book titled: The Servant Leadership Training Course.  In his book he states:

  • Servant leadership is a business philosophy that emphasizes the act of the leader, such as a manager or supervisor, focusing on the growth and development of their employees and ensuring their success. In doing so, the leader succeeds when their employees do. In a business team, servant leadership can not only help employees achieve and grow, but it can also benefit their leaders and the company as a whole.

He describes Leaders such as Ghandi, Dr. King, Mother Teresa and others. As you read the information below see if you agree that these people served others, and also led them. Then ask yourself if you do.
Hunter breaks Servant Leadership into three critical areas: Skill, Influence, Character

Leadership is the skill of influencing people to enthusiastically work towards goals identified as the common good, with character that inspires confidence!

    • Skill: A skill is something that can be learned or an acquired ability.
    • Influence: the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.
    • Character: Moral maturity. Your ability to do the ‘right thing, even when no one is looking’.

The United States Marine Corps defines leadership as:

    • The qualities of moral character, that enable a person to inspire and influence a group of people successfully.

If you are interested in learning more about how to become a better servant leader, or you think you are ready to help, please let us know!