I have worked in my field for thirty years. I have served as a leader and have served under a number of leaders during that time. Some have been good while some have not. Good, healthy leadership is out there but you have to look for it. I have learned just as much from the mistakes of those around me, as well as my own, as I have from the successes. I have also had the privilege of working for some incredible servant leaders as well. One in particular I served with for almost ten years and to this day he is one of my closest friends. He showed me what a servant leader looks like and has had a profound impact on my life. So I can tell you from experience that these five principals work.
What is a servant leader? It's not really complicated. If you see people as a means to serve you, then you are not a servant leader. I would call you a manager or simply a boss. If you view your role as a leader to empower others to become better at what they do, to achieve greater levels of skill and ability and become better and more productive people in the process, then you are a servant leader. Read on to get a better picture of what it means to be a servant leader and why it works.
# 1 – It fosters an atmosphere of teamwork.
This is a natural byproduct of servant leadership because the servant leader does not make everything about him. The boss or manager uses words like "me" and "I" while the servant leader uses words like "us" and "we". Teamwork is achieved because everyone feels a part of the process and not just a faceless cog in the wheel. A servant leader naturally fosters a servant mentality in the overall team and as a result, productivity and creativity increases because there is an absence of competition. People thrive in a team atmosphere. The added bonus is that if something fails, the whole team shares the responsibility rather than just one person. This adds a feeling of protection in the group and gives people more incentive to contribute. When the team succeeds, everyone shares in the glory rather than the leader getting the sole credit for the team's work.
# 2 – It adds value to the members of your team.
I have found that when people truly believe that they are more valuable than just getting the job done they will always make sure the job gets done. When people feel valued they take value in what they do. You will not have to send out a memo chastising your team for their lack of commitment. You will be dropping them notes of thanks for being such great team members. Give a person value and they will go the extra mile for you. If you fail to give people a sense of value then they will not see any value in you as a leader.
# 3 – You reap what you sow.
It really is that simple. If you serve others, they will serve you. If you sow encouragement, generosity and kindness into those under you then you will receive the same back. Another way of saying this is, "What goes around coming around." If you are self-serving, impatient and demanding then you will be treated likewise.
# 4 – It fosters an atmosphere of trust.
Nothing builds trust faster than a servant attitude. This is because people know you care about them and have their best interest at heart even when you have to deal with problems. They can trust you. Nothing fosters distrust, backbiting, and an atmosphere of having to watch your back like working for a demanding, uncaring and self-absorbed boss because you are viewed as nothing more than a tool to get something done. This atmosphere forces people into a protection protection mode and nothing gets done in this environment. It stifles growth and creativity and kills the team.
# 5 – It increases your potential for success.
A servant leader realizes that no matter how talented he is, he can not go very far without other people. I have learned that I am limited by my talent and ability. But combined with the talent, creativity and potential of a team, the sky is the limit. This is true, not just for me as the leader, but for every member of the team. The typical leader hires people that are below his level because he feels his leadership is threatened by someone better than him. A great leader surrounds himself with the best talent he can find so that he can maximize the potential of the team as well as his own. That is great leadership.
My close friend that I mentioned earlier modeled all five of these principles. It was the most rewarding ten years of my career and it has made me a much better leader myself. Be a servant leader. It works and it is so much more enjoyable. There is a catch though. To be a servant leader means you must give up the most important thing in your life right now – you. You have to let go of your self-importance. You have to give up a lot of personal "rights" you used to think you were entitled to. If you can do that, you are well on your way to becoming a servant leader.