Traditional management and leadership theory put the leader at the top of the pyramid, with all others supporting the layer above them. Servant Leadership, on the other hand, turns the pyramid upside down: instead of the people working to support and serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people. That does not mean that the leaders are getting coffee, and helping with menial tasks. Rather, as Marilyn D. Jacobson, Ph.D., says in her book Turning the Pyramid Upside Down, “For a new reality in a new century, a different kind of leadership is required. Leaders must partner and collaborate with their employees to respond to escalating complexities and inspire new thinking and discovery of fresh ideas.”
Servant leadership is still leadership, but the qualities inherent in servant lead organizations are very different. Additionally, there is more of a delicate balance between the roles of servant and leader that makes servant leadership work. Here are nine characteristics or qualities you will find in servant-lead organizations:
- Values diverse opinions and ideas. In servant-lead organizations, there is an open and vigorous exchange of ideas and opinions. Servant leaders seek out a diversity of opinions to find the best ideas, and to lead the organization in implementing new ideas and fresh thinking.
- Builds a culture of trust. There are dissenting opinions in servant-lead organizations. But those dissenting opinions are welcomed and openly discussed, not turned into gossip or otherwise toxic communications.
- Develops people. Servant leaders want to get the best from every employee, as well as to develop employees for the future. In this way, servant-lead organizations reinforce themselves by building and encouraging future servant leaders.
- Employ the whole person. Your employees have lives outside of their job. They have goals, wants and needs beyond the organizations. A servant-lead organization is concerned about the whole person.
- Encouragement. Employees have a lot of encouragement to accomplish difficult tasks in servant-lead organizations. Remember: courage is part of encouragement.
- Sell don’t tell. While it might be tempting to order your employees to complete certain tasks, the outcome will not be worth it. Servant leaders persuade their employees to complete tasks by helping them understand how those tasks relate to the higher purpose of the business.
- You Servant leaders always think of others first. There is an element of selflessness in the true servant leader, and that supports the basic tenet of serving others. In other words, if your first thought is “what does this do for me?”, you’ve got some work to do.
- Like any leader the servant leader’s responsibility is to understand what the future holds, to communicate that to the organization, and to persuade, encourage, and develop the organization to meet that vision. As Max DePree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”
- In servant-lead organizations, position titles don’t mean much. You will find the CEO picking up trash, and the janitor helping to make decisions. Servant leaders set examples and model behavior, and that is taken on by all employees, as well.
The servant-lead organization is fundamentally a different place from the traditional management lead organization. Which makes sense when you consider the vast changes that have taken place in the post-industrial world. Perhaps this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson sums it up: “Don’t just live each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” Servant leaders spend much more time looking forward than tallying up what happened in the past.