Last Updated on September 6, 2023 by Dave Schoenbeck
Years ago, I worked for a forward-thinking company that valued servant leadership above all other management tactics. While it was an unpopular idea in the industry at the time, I can vouch that those servant leadership characteristics were a robust education for me as an emerging leader, and this concept forever imprinted my leadership style.
What is Servant Leadership?
The Center for Servant Leadership defines the concept: “The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”
Servant leadership is the philosophy of leading through service. That is to say, managers don’t think of themselves as “bosses.” Rather than becoming preoccupied with their success, servant leaders believe their purpose is to nurture their associates and contribute to the company’s overall success instead of tending to their desires.
This might sound simple in theory, but it takes a genuine desire to serve for servant leadership to become part of your company culture. If you have a manager more driven by the bottom line or their success than by helping the people on your team, you will have a problem. The focus should be on supporting your teammates to succeed; from there, the business will grow and thrive naturally.
Said another way, If the leader takes care of the team, the team will take care of the customers. The customers reward us with sales and profits, which takes care of the business. The result: the business takes care of the leader. It is a cycle of success that justifies and supports investing in servant leadership.
How it Works
In a high-stress business environment, it’s easy to become so preoccupied with your goals that you must pay attention to the people who work for you. If someone makes a costly mistake, your first instinct might be to snap at or discipline them somehow. The servant leader, however, would use the error as an opportunity to coach that teammate to ensure their growth—not to tear them down.
Ultimately, servant leadership revolves around encouraging your team’s growth and understanding that your job as a manager is to ensure their success rather than your own. Authentic leadership requires empathy for every employee. John Maxwell’s book, The Law of the Picture, goes into this in-depth.
5 Key Servant Leadership Characteristics
- Compassion. Servant leaders know their employees are people. If someone makes a mistake, respond with kindness. If an employee is going through something outside of work, give them the resources they need to get through it.
- Self-awareness. Servant leaders must be aware of the persona they are projecting to their people. As their manager, your team looks to you to provide an example. Be mindful of your behavior and model it after what you want to see in the workplace.
- Humility. Don’t be so full of pride that you believe any task is “below” you. Be willing to perform any function, no matter how menial, in the name of service and communal success.
- Stewardship. One of the most critical servant leadership characteristics is stewardship, or the desire to serve others. This concept is at the very heart of servant leadership.
- Commitment. Servant leaders must be committed to their team. By ensuring each has the means to succeed, the potential for your organization’s success becomes limitless.
My leadership style was galvanized in a people-first company that started daily concerned about supporting their teammates and delivering profits. If you want to learn how servant leadership principles can work for your business, click here and fill out my contact form. I know how to help you bring servant leadership to reality.