Updated: Jul 16
July 2021 Organizational Wellness Challenge – Organizational Service
Last month, we challenged leaders within organizations to set clear priorities. Define and revisit goals and objectives. Assign clear responsibilities aligned to your objectives. Schedule your priorities and build a culture of accountability.
Nice in theory, but what if no one follows? Will you demand compliance? Will you follow the playbook of the autocratic leader who coerces the team through fear and blame? Or is there a better way?
In 1970 Robert Greenleaf wrote a thought-provoking essay titled “The Servant as Leader.” He argued that there is a better way. He suggests that the great leader is servant first, not leader first. Greenleaf contends that the best test of a servant-first leader is the degree to which those being served become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants.
At the team or organizational level, Greenleaf distinguishes servant-led organizations from traditional autocratic organizations as people-building versus people-using. Since Greenleaf first popularized the term Servant Leadership, there have been thousands of case studies and related research, books, and articles that support his hypothesis that the servant leader is good for business and society as a whole.
This month, we challenge you to embrace and practice four characteristics of the servant leader as first suggested by Greenleaf.
1. Trust – “A leader does not elicit trust unless one has confidence in their values.”
Does your team know the values that drive your decisions and behaviors? Do you know your values? The values you embrace and exhibit offer insight and predictability into how you will serve others and respond under pressure. When your behaviors align to expressed values, you earn the trust of those who chose to follow. Define or revisit a core set of values that serve as a filter for your decisions and the behaviors you exhibit. Share those with your team. Earn their trust.
2. Listen – “True listening builds strength in other people.”
Many of us as leaders feel the pressure to be heard. If a problem arises, we assume others expect us to have answers. Worse yet, we look for someone or something to blame. The servant leader listens first. They seek first to understand, rather than be understood. Embrace and practice the listen-first approach. When you are presented with a problem, put aside any preconceived notions. Ask good questions. Do not fill silence.
3. Empathize – “The servant as leader always empathizes, always accepts the person.”
Have you ever worked with or for the perfect person? No! The servant leader recognizes that we are all human. They treat everyone with dignity and respect; however, as Greenleaf notes, empathy does not mean that we blindly accept some of a person’s effort or performance as good enough. Empathy is the willingness to consider and vicariously experience circumstances from the perspective of other. In all feedback conversations with individuals, consider how empathy might reshape the conversation. The servant leader provides direct and honest feedback in an empathetic manner because they care.
4. Withdraw – “Pacing oneself by appropriate withdrawal is one of the best approaches.”
Greenleaf astutely notes that the servant leader cannot be everything to everyone at all times. Recognize that the servant leader must pause, rest, and recover. Doing so empowers the leader to better serve. Establish daily, weekly, and monthly routines to restore your spirit and capacity to serve.
What type of leader do you want to be? Will you leverage positional authority to coerce people into action? Or will you model the servant mindset that inspires a healthier, wiser, and more autonomous workforce to follow? Practice the habits of a servant leader this month and CEEK a Better Way!