Monday Mornings with Madison

Servant Leadership, Part 2

Word Count: 1,647
Estimated Read Time: 6 ½ min.

Manager vs. Leader vs. Servant Leader

Most organizations have managers who oversee what is being done, and ensure it is being done in the best possible way through and with others.  It is a position that exists in all fields, from business and education to medicine, hospitality, and sports.  There are managers in the for-profit sector as well as the non-profit, not-for-profit and government sectors.  They manage people or work or both.  Managers implement.  They help themselves and others to become high performers, putting processes in place that support accomplishing goals and ensuring that tasks are accomplished well.  Managers set goals, plan work, define roles, organize resources, measure progress, develop supportive relationships, and direct progress.  They focus on short-term results, seek stability, and are reactive.  They usually have power because of position, not persuasion.  In short, managers are useful and ubiquitous.

Leaders, on the other hand, set vision and chart the course.  The leader’s focus is to change the status quo in order to create the desired future. Leaders challenge how things are being done, find opportunities and take risks.  They determine where the team is going and how to get there.  They help create a shared meaning and understanding of actions and events, inspire a shared vision, foster collaboration, strengthen others, recognize and praise accomplishments, set the example, behave with consistency, create an environment of trust and move forward with self-confidence but not arrogance.  They focus on the mission, not the obstacles, and learn from mistakes with humility.  Most importantly, leaders accomplish all of this using the art and skill of influencing people, so objectives are achieved willingly and enthusiastically.

Therefore, leaders are not the same as managers.  Unlike managers, leaders have power because of influence and inspiration.  They have foresight, are proactive and encourage change.  Ideally, leadership is one element of management.  While every leader manages, not every manager is a leader.  There are plenty of managers, but few genuine leaders.  That is why leadership is the focus of the business world today.  Leadership courses, coaching, skills, and success stories are being pushed and publicized at every turn.   Self-proclaimed leadership pundits, gurus and experts abound, each with a TedX Talk, book or conference describing the skills it takes to be a strong and charismatic leader and explaining strategies leaders use to persuade people to achieve goals.

However, according to a 2017 article by Gallup titled How Managers Can Excel by Really Coaching Their Employees, “only about one in four employees ‘strongly agree’ that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them — or that the feedback they receive helps them do better work. Even more alarming is that a mere 21% of employees ‘strongly agree’ that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.”  So, while leadership is key to success, nearly 80% of all managers are not leaders.  But, perhaps that doesn’t have to be the case?

Achieving Servant Leadership

The pursuit and understanding of leadership goes back over 2,000 years to such luminaries as Sun Tzu, Plato and Machievelli.  However, modern educational institutions actually only began offering degrees in scientific management in the late 1800s following the industrial revolution and management degrees rose to prominence in the 1900s.  And, leadership itself became the focus of contemporary academic studies in just the last 60 years, and especially in the last two decades.  Leaders are the most valuable resource an organization can have.   In fact, some business gurus think that Servant Leadership is the best approach because it is other-centric.

A great many successful companies have adopted a Servant Leadership approach.  A Servant Leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Servant leadership inverts the norm, which puts the customer service associates as a main priority. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the customers and employees.  Robert K. Greenleaf, who popularized this approach, felt that a Servant Leader should continually be asking, “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

Greenleaf believed that when leaders shifted their mindset to serve first, they benefitted as did their employees. Their employees acquired personal growth, while the organization grew as well due to the employees’ increased commitment and engagement with their jobs and the organization.  The leader and the employees have shared values, a consensus of what matters and a common agreed-upon vision.  In that sense, there really is no “leader” in Servant Leadership.   Instead, there is a reciprocal choice between the leader and the employees.  If the leader is principle centered, he or she is able to develop moral authority. If the employees are also principle centered, they will also follow the leader who is embracing the same principles.  According to Greenleaf, “In this sense, both leaders and followers are followers.  Why? They follow truth. They follow natural law. They follow principles. They follow a common, agreed-upon vision. They share values.  As a result, they grow to trust one another.”

This entire way of running an organization is very different from the norm.  To help people learn how to implement Servant Leadership, Greenleaf developed a Program comprised of three courses to help leaders understand the Foundations of Servant Leadership, the Key Practices of Servant Leadership and strategies for Implementing Servant Leadership.  In the courses, they teach that to be an effective servant leader, this person must:

1. Be Able to Listen (really Listen)

While many leaders are very good at doing the talking, they are much less adept at listening.  But in Servant Leadership, the leader understands that communication is a two-way process.  Effective servant leaders are able to listen intently and respectfully to staff – not just hear but actually process the information received — and act on the information received.  That means hearing not only what fits with the company’s agenda, but also the issues and concerns that don’t fit.  Concerns and needs are addressed.

2.  Be Able to Empathize

Servant leaders deeply understand and empathize with others. A Servant Leader is able to recognize and accept each employee for his/her unique self, understanding and accepting other points of view.  This requires a deep level of respect for and trust in every member of the organization, and it requires the leader to value all employees equally.

3.  Provide Healing

Not referring to physical healing, a Servant Leader is intent on providing a professional type of healing, achieved through discussion, coaching, mentoring and relationship-building activities.

4.   Be Aware of Self and Others

Understanding strengths, weaknesses and areas for development and support is crucial for maximizing the performance of those who a Servant Leader leads.  The key is to be able to assess each individual’s abilities and talents and determine their highest and best use while listening and respecting the employee’s own goals, needs and concerns.

5.  Be Able to Persuade Others

According to Robert Greenleaf, “Ego cannot sleep.  It micro-manages.  It disempowers.  It reduces capability.  It excels in control.”   This is a significant difference between a Servant Leader and other styles of leadership in that a Servant Leader must relinquish ego and the need to control.  The Servant Leader relies largely on persuasion and cooperation rather than authority and delegation.  Servant Leaders have an ability to convince others as opposed to coercing, manipulating or controlling them to gain compliance.

6.  Be Able to Conceptualize

Servant leaders have the ability to look at a problem and think beyond the day-to-day realities of their work.  They can see how the issue fits into the bigger picture.  While conceptualization is important, Servant Leaders also have the ability to delicately balance conceptualization and day-to-day focus.

7.  Have Insight and Foresight

Servant leaders must be able to understand lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and then estimate the likely outcomes of any future decisions.  This is a quality that is difficult to learn except through experience or a great deal of mentoring.

8.  Provide Stewardship

Greenleaf believed the leaders of all organizations had a responsibility to behave in ways that were for the greater good of society.  The behavior of leaders at companies like Enron, Exxon, and BP would be the antithesis of the type of stewardship that a Servant Leader would demonstrate.

9.  Be Committed to the Growth of All Employees

Servant leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond that of the work they do. They lead with a deep committed to both the personal and professional growth of every individual within the organization. Ensuring staff welfare and well-being is an important quality of Servant Leadership.

10. Able to Build Community

Developing and maintaining an effective community is fundamental to Servant Leadership. Servant leaders identify ways in which social and task orientated communities are created among those who work within their organization.

The Litmus Test

Greenleaf was so committed to the concept of Servant Leadership that he even developed a litmus test for determining if people were servant leaders and if a company was a servant-led organization. He called it the Best Test and consisted of three questions:

  1. Do those served grow as individuals?
  2. Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants?
  3. What is the effect of the leadership having on the least privileged in the group?  Are they benefiting or at least not being further deprived?

Leadership roles come with a certain amount of power. Managers and weak leaders use that power to make themselves feel strong, but strong leaders use their power to serve and give strength to the weak.  If a company is trying to up its game, adopting a Servant Leadership approach may well provide the path to growth and success, especially in the 21st century.

Quote of the Week

“Everywhere there is much complaining about too few leaders. We have too few because most institutions are structured so that only a few—only one at the time—can emerge.” Robert K. Greenleaf


© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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