Let’s get straight to the point. Why not servant-leadership? It is completely counter cultural and I would say that’s a good thing. All you have to do is ask an audience of any age, “Raise your hand if you have thought in the last month or even week that there is something wrong with the world based off of something you have seen or experienced”. Rarely is there a hand not raised. Why is this the case? Even though we don’t want to admit it, one big reason is that many of us are still stuck in our “terrible twos”. It is all about us and everyone is in our way. This is our default setting and we are not leaving people better than we found them because of it.
Servant-leadership is a timeless model going back thousands of years, yet the phrase “servant-leadership” was actually coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in a 1970 published essay titled, The Servant as Leader. In his writings Greenleaf points out that the ultimate test of a servant-leader is that people grew because of your leadership and were left better than you found them, especially those with the least amount of power.
The common phrase “Leaders are born” is not the belief in servant-leadership. Servant-leadership is authority based on influence, which is built on service and sacrifice. This action of service is rooted in unconditional love, which starts with disciplined character that focuses on the everyday seemingly insignificant choices that we make daily. These small choices actually matter a great deal and are at the heart of building influence in the lives of those around us. Influence is a skill, no different than playing a sport, piano, or speaking in front of others. I can learn influence by practicing certain skills that will help me to become more influential and anyone can up their game when it comes to being more patient, kind, humble, respectful, selfless, forgiving, and committed. Great leaders are not just born, they are made by the thousands of deliberate choices they make daily.
Power vs Influence
Servant-leadership flips the traditional power model of leadership upside down. Picture a triangle demonstrating the hierarchy of a business or organization with the CEO or boss at the top, different levels of Vice Presidents, Managers, etc… heading down the triangle until you eventually get to the front line employee. This is the way that many people I know view leadership. The idea is that someone has a title and tells others what to do and magically they follow right? “Do it or else!” Wrong.
The average young person today will switch jobs at least 15-20 times and in many cases this is going to be because their boss doesn’t “get it”. Really what the boss doesn’t get is how to lead. Management is about the day-to-day operations and systems, but leadership is all about relationships. When we flip the traditional business triangle upside down, but don’t switch the positions, all of a sudden the CEO and or people with the bigger titles are below those that are closest to the front lines. Now, does this mean that the boss or CEO is lower in importance? Absolutely not! Instead of, “Do it or else!” it changes to “Do it and I will meet your legitimate needs.” Note that there is still a “Do it” part of the statement. We got a job to do, but my job as your leader is to get you what you need to be most successful, to meet your needs by paying attention and showing appreciation. I am going to encourage you, push you, and build a relationship with you along the way. You will grow, not because you “have to” but because you “chose to”. Servant-leadership done effectively creates this through building influence instead of having to implement power or top down leadership. In fact, for a servant-leader, having to demonstrate power is a sign that your leadership has broken down. It is a last resort.