First and foremost, Servant Leadership is about adding value to people and their lives. To be successful at Servant Leadership is to be caring, to help everything and everyone you come across (you touch). Great Leaders understand that the best thing that they can give to others is themselves and their time. Servant Leaders help others reach their true potential, and they do so without any personal agenda. Their goal in life is to be of value to everyone and anyone.
A good Servant Leader will help people achieve their best in a number of ways. First is by getting a deeper sense of who they are: understanding their story, their journey in life so far, their deepest fears and desires etc.
In doing so, a good Servant Leader grasps their aspirations, their pains, the joys, the risks they have taken, the goals they want to achieve in life.
It is as if you are stepping in the shoes of the people you are working with, to understand how it feels to be just them. Just by being with them, and understanding them, creates a strong bond between you and the people you're working with. It helps to have that strong connection and conviction in your clients that you really care for them, that you are here for them, that you are on the same side as they are, that you are ready to walk an extra mile to be at their level and then take them holding their hands to where they want to reach.
Secondly, make their vision, their needs, their goals and how they want to achieve it, your top priority. Many so-called leaders think about leadership as all about themselves. But it is not the right understanding. In fact, Servant Leaders focus on the needs and wants of the people and make their (people’s) dreams, hopes and aspirations a priority.
Servant Leaders nurture people and organizations and align the vision of the organization with the dreams of its people. And, in this alignment, there is great power. A good Servant Leader believes in the people he or she works with, and by doing so, they help the people believe in themselves, which helps the people perform better.
It is great when the people believe in a leader, but it is beyond greatness when the leaders believe in the people they serve. Not merely by their words, but also through actions they confirm their belief in the people. By doing so, they help the people grow in Self belief. Only by understanding people deeply can you provide true value to their lives. This will enable and empower you to work with them and brainstorm ways they can achieve their dreams while also bringing value to the bigger organization.
You can then work with them to put a plan or journey in place. It is one thing to say that, you want to help people on the teams you are working with. But it is another to actually follow through and guide them all along the way. When you follow through, you are not only helping the people, the teams, the organization, but you're also adding credibility to your own leadership, skills and influence - not only with the people but with everyone else in the larger team or organization.
There are really no cons when it comes to adding value to people and their lives. Definitely, it will cost you time and effort and will need a lot of patience, courage and having to deal with conflicts, disagreements etc., but, when you add value to people and their lives, you help them and truly make them more valuable.
A successful or an effective Servant Leader will work with individuals to make teams stronger; will work with teams to make departments stronger; will work with departments to make the larger organization stronger.
When people and the whole hierarchy of teams and departments become effective, it helps everyone. Your biggest reward will be a deeper sense of satisfaction. In my journey of Servant Leadership, my deepest rewards were to see a spark in the eyes of my team members, and Scrum Masters, and Product Owners I worked with as they discovered their own journey towards being successful.
According to J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership: leadership is the ability to influence others to follow his or her lead. Famous leaders have always lived this truth. This is realized through a deep understanding of leadership. You can see all around the world, the most powerful leaders are also the most influential.
True leaders do not lose their influence. The leader that is primarily focused on product or organizational growth while ignoring (under emphasizing) the growth of his or her people does not have a long-lasting influence. Such an influence goes away with their title, position, or money. Servant Leadership is an example of true leadership where the influence continues to stay independent of title, position, or money.
Do you see the difference?
Can anyone be an effective leader? Somehow, many people believe that leadership is only for those who are born with a certain ability. This is not true. I believe, anyone who moves on a journey where they feel they want to be of value to others actually starts showing up as a leader.
In fact, great leaders are those who wake up every morning to see how can they give value to others around them. I do agree that there are certain leadership skills or traits that can be seen in some people early on in their lives, but it does not guarantee that they will grow up into a great leader.
Attitude and effort are two important aspects of good Servant Leaders. Such leaders show up with a positive attitude, and they give 100% in the efforts. Instead of being indifferent to people pursuing their own agendas, having wrong attitudes and refusing to work with a team, they choose to care about people, and include everybody. It is a choice they make every day.
Servant Leadership also understands that just because you have influence with one or a few people, doesn't mean you will have the same influence everywhere or with everyone. Influence needs to be developed with each individual. Every individual is a life, is a phenomenon ready to blossom.
True leaders believe in their people and help them grow in their own Self belief. This empowers them to identify their goals and explore their own journey. I recall John Maxwell's 5 levels of leadership, in which he described the process of developing influence with others.
John says, that influence starts with position, grows to permission with a strong relationship, increases production with things getting done, strengthens as you engage in people development, and culminates at the pinnacle, when you grow other leaders who develop people.
The most effective Servant Leaders are intentional about trying to positively influence others without a personal agenda. And they understand that they have to work to increase their influence with individuals, which comes with responsibility.
It is common to see that people who desire to lead often seek such leadership positions because of the perks, money and privileges. However, people must remember that leadership comes with responsibility. People of positive influence add value to others.
Such people are Servant Leaders. Jackie Robinson, who was a groundbreaking major league baseball player, once said, “a life is insignificant except for its impact upon other lives”. Great Servant Leaders, delegate responsibility, still keeping the accountability with themselves. They don't tell people how to do things, they believe and trust in the capability of people, and they guide them to see it through. This also goes along with Agile principle number 5; which says,
Build products around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. In the end, the leader who delegates the job is still responsible for seeing that the job gets done. You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility. If the task doesn't get done, and you're the leader - the buck should stop with you.
Leadership versus Servant Leadership
Many leaders misunderstand leadership. They think it's the role of the followers to serve and of leaders to be served. I was once talking with a senior executive at an organization discussing and brainstorming on how to create effective teams, when the topic of Servant Leadership came up. I suggested we need Servant Leaders, to which she reacted strongly - “It’s leadership, not Servant Leadership”. Such thinking is wrong and lacks deeper understanding of true leadership.
Many leaders who work their way up in a given company think that when they reach the top they will be in complete control of their lives and the organization, That they will be captain of their own ship, somebody who can now do whatever they wanted. However, good leaders discover that leadership is actually Servanthood. Many potential leaders overestimate the perks and underestimate the price of leadership. When they focus on the benefits of leadership, they become self-serving leaders.
Here are some differences between self-serving leaders and Servant Leaders.
If one wants to be a really great leader they can possibly be, no matter how much or how little natural talent they possess, they need to embrace Servant Leadership. Remember, it is a choice they need to make.
Challenges faced by Servant Leaders
As you tread on the path of Servant Leadership, be aware of challenges that can show up.
First is about not having the right attitude. Many leaders think serving conflicts leadership, but it is not true. In fact, true leadership calls for serving.
Second is about lack of motivation towards serving. If you go into leadership with a motive to serve individuals, teams and organizations, it will be hard for you to go wrong.
Robert K. Greenleaf, the founder of Servant Leadership term, said:
The third challenge is about values. If you value people, you will want to add value to them and serve them. This may not sit well with some leaders, but please understand, when you work with people, when you have people who work with you or for you, you want them to be successful so that they can help you succeed. Unless you are giving value to them and their lives and help them achieve what they want, they might fail you. So, good leaders serve and see themselves as Servant Leaders who bring value or success, and, they do this silently without much noise or fanfare.
The tennis star, Arthur Ashe, describes such an attitude by saying,
Servant Leadership is true leadership. Leaders have a choice on how they see themselves. Command and control and “follow me” style has short term influence and such an influence goes away with the title, position or money. Servant Leadership done with the right attitude and a warm heart brings lasting influence, joy and satisfaction.
What has been your experience with leadership? Have you experienced serving people as a leader? What difference has it made to your life and the lives of those you served?
Amitabh (Amit) Sinha is a servant leader entrepreneur, visionary, mentor, trainer and coach. Amit is highly passionate about Agile, its principles, values, and the human side. Amit is a people champion and strives to bring out the best in his teams. Amit leverages his expertise in Agile, Scrum, Kanban and people skills to increase team effectiveness and happiness. See more