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Servant Leadership: A Leadership Oxymoron

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Putting Your Team First, and Yourself Second

That is the crux of how a servant leader operates.

In 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote an essay, “The Servant as a Leader”. This was the first time the term  “Servant Leadership” was coined. Robert Greenleaf was sceptical of traditional leadership styles that place a greater emphasis on authoritarian relationships between employers and employees. In reality, it is a strategy that has been used for centuries.

As a servant leader, you are a “servant first” – you prioritise the needs of others, particularly your team members, over your own. You value the perspectives of others, provide them with the support they need to accomplish their work and personal goals, involve them in decision-making when appropriate, and foster a sense of community within your team. This results in increased engagement, increased trust, and stronger bonds between team members and other stakeholders. Additionally, it can result in increased innovation.

Servant leadership is not a style or technique of leadership in and of itself. Rather than that, it is a way of behaving that you develop over time. It complements democratic leadership styles and is comparable to transformational leadership, which is frequently the most effective style to employ in business situations. Servant leadership stands in stark contrast to autocratic, transactional, and bureaucratic leadership styles, which all emphasise structure, hierarchy, and a rigid give-and-take relationship.

How Effective is The Servant Leadership Style?

Servant leadership aspires to shift the focus of management and personnel interaction away from “controlling activities” and toward a more collaborative relationship. 

In servant leadership environments, the authority figure aims to foster innovation, empower employees, and ensure the well-being of those around them. Servant leadership also aims to cultivate the qualities of leadership in others. This leadership style necessitates the development of empathy, listening, stewardship, and a commitment to the personal growth of others.

According to Greenleaf’s observations, a servant leader encounters situations and organisations from a servant’s perspective, seeking to lend their presence to meet the organization’s and others’ needs. Servant leaders prioritise meeting stakeholder needs and requirements, with leadership a distant second. This is in contrast to the leader-first perspective, in which an individual seeks control quickly, frequently motivated by the desire and prospect of material gain or influence.

Personal advancement takes a back seat to developing and mentoring the team that follows their instructions or the clients’ and customers’ needs. Even after ascending to a position of leadership, a servant leader typically tends to encourage their subordinates to prioritise service to others over personal gain. A servant leader’s objective may be to share power with others and to foster their development and growth. This trait can include carefully listening to followers in order to comprehend their needs, but it also includes leaders holding themselves and others fully responsible for their words and actions.

Whereas the leader-first dynamic is motivated by a personal desire for power, the servant leader is motivated by the benefits of their service to others. For instance, a servant leader may pause to consider how their efforts benefit those who are marginalised or of lower economic status prior to pursuing a position of control. Their advancement to positions of leadership occurs as a result of their commitment to service.

This is evident in the healthcare sector, where medical practitioners work to benefit their patients while also assisting their peers and teammates in providing care. In the business world, this can mean ensuring that their service benefits employees, customers, and all other stakeholders.

Like every leadership style, Servant Leadership comes with its own disadvantages as well. But above we have talked about it enough. You have to wait for the next part. Hang on here for more discussions on leadership styles.

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