In a world where interruption, abruptness and “me first” rules, is it really any wonder we are economically struggling? How can we deepen trust and increase listening to build cohesive teams in this kind of disconnected environment?
Long ago I watched my father purchase a bankrupt diesel engine foundry business and transform it into a roaring success through his practice of servant leadership.
Servant leadership is a philosophy and practice of leadership, coined and defined by Robert K. Greenleaf. Servant-leaders are often seen as humble stewards of their organization’s resources: human, financial and physical.
As a young woman, I learned a great deal watching how my father built relationships with his employees through developing shared language and asking for their input with key decision making.
Larry C. Spears, who has served as President and CEO of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership since 1990, has extracted a set of 10 characteristics that are central to the development of a servant leader:
- Listening: Traditionally, and also in servant leadership, managers are required to have communication skills as well as the competence to make decisions. A servant leader has the motivation to listen actively to subordinates and support them in decision identification. The servant leader particularly needs to pay attention to what remains unspoken in the management setting. This means relying on her inner voice in order to find out what the body, mind and spirit are communicating.
- Empathy: A servant leader attempts to understand and empathize with others. Workers may be considered not only as employees, but also as people who need respect and appreciation for their personal development. As a result, leadership is seen as a special type of human work, which ultimately generates a competitive advantage.
- Healing: A great strength of a Servant Leader is the ability for healing one’s self and others. A servant leader tries to help people solve their problems and conflicts in relationships, because she wants to encourage and support the personal development of each individual.This leads to the formation of a business culture, in which the working environment is dynamic, fun and free of the fear of failure.
- Awareness: A servant leader needs to gain general awareness and especially self-awareness. She has the ability to view situations from a more integrated, holistic position. As a result, she gets a better understanding about ethics and values.
- Persuasion: A Servant Leader does not take advantage of her power and status by coercing compliance; she rather tries to convince those she manages. This element distinguishes servant leadership most clearly from traditional, authoritarian models and can be traced back to the religious views of Robert Greenleaf.
- Conceptualization: A servant leader thinks beyond day-to-day realities. That means she has the ability to see beyond the limits of the operating business and also focuses on long term operating goals. A Leader constructs a personal vision that only she can develop by reflecting on the meaning of life. As a result, she derives specific goals and implementation strategies.
- Foresight: Foresight is the ability to foresee the likely outcome of a situation. It enables the servant leader to learn about the past and to achieve a better understanding about the current reality. It also enables the servant leader to identify consequences about the future. This characteristic is closely related to conceptualization.
- Stewardship: CEOs, staffs and trustees have the task to hold their institution in trust for the greater good of society. In conclusion, servant leadership is seen as an obligation to help and serve others. Openness and persuasion are more important than control.
- Commitment to the growth of people: A servant leader is convinced that people have an intrinsic value beyond their contributions as workers. Therefore, she should nurture the personal, professional and spiritual growth of employees. For example, she spends money for the personal and professional development of the people who make up her organization. The servant leader will also encourage the ideas of everyone and involve workers in decision making.
- Building community: A servant leader identifies means to build a strong community within her organization and to develop a true community among businesses and institutions alike.