One of the most crucial aspects of running a business is choosing an effective leadership model to help ensure success. The servant leadership model has become an increasingly popular choice in recent years because it focuses on meeting the needs of employees and empowering them to do their best work.
This model was coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970 stating that “Servant Leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enrich the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.”
Anyone can be a leader, regardless of their rank in the company. Yet, to be a Servant Leader, there is a set of attributes that are essential. They listen first. They see the world through the eyes of others. They are aware of the context. They persuade through gentle nonjudgmental argument to create change. They take responsibility. They value the all instead of the self.
Last but key, they guide and steer towards an inspirational and well-known vision. And this is the trick to be a Leader. Otherwise, you are merely a server.
When can go wrong
Looking at the possible benefits, it seems very natural to think of this as a win-win leadership style for any organization because it tends to lead to a self-sustainable serving the other organization. There are many challenges though.
Lack of Motivation. Employees can lack motivation when their manager is always chipping in, providing all the answers and “babying” them. The workforce under a giving servant leader can become lazy so that they and the company do not experience the growth necessary to keep a small company in business.
Works Against Traditional Authority. One of the most obvious limitations of servant leadership is that leaders must be willing to give up absolute authority. Sub-limiting their egos and give credit to employees to help them exceed performance standards.
Doesn’t Fit Every Business. A decision to implement servant leadership practices would turn an organization’s culture upside-down. That’s too big a risk for most decision-makers, especially those in large companies in highly competitive industries. A hospital may be more conducive to servant leadership than a Wall Street brokerage firm.
No Credit. It’s essential that the leader who this servant leader is reporting to has visibility on this hidden work because the final result will always be presented to the served person or team. It’s difficult to find business owners willing to act selflessly in their pursuit of success.
Soft reputation. Many people still think of leaders as possessing certain alpha traits, and when a manager acts more like a career counselor than a leader, it can give that manager a soft reputation, especially in workplaces that aren’t populated with many servant leaders. It may limit the manager’s ability to get promoted because most organizations don’t want a nurturing figure at the top – they want a decisive leader who will carry the flag at the front of the battalion.
It’s not about being servile, it’s about wanting to help others. It’s about identifying and meeting the needs of colleagues, customers, and communities. Nothing screams camaraderie like uniting a diverse group of people to work toward a common goal.
Serving the other is a ‘natural calling’, which is never for personal gain, but a sacrifice for the sake of others and their personal and professional growth. It’s valued the group over individual benefit. Serving someone to execute a certain strategy towards a vision. Empower someone with guardrails and a direction. Otherwise, you are merely a servant.
It’s not easy to become vulnerable and lower our ego to serve the others. It requires a safe environment where Servant Leadership is nurtured and supported by top management.
Not all organizations benefit or suit the servant leadership approach. Not appropriated In times of high pressure, where organizations require a quick turnaround, an expedient resolution to a company-wide crisis, or heavily focuses on meeting financial targets and has a high staff turnover rate it. Therefore, Servant Leadership (as any other type of leadership) approach is highly dependent on the company culture, maturity, people and actual context.
Yet, I truly believe that leading through service is what brings long- lasting results and creating a nurturing and supportive culture.
How marvelous it would be to have a community of leaders that look for each other success and truly engaged to reach a shared goal?
As the proverb says, “When we row another person across the river, we get to the other side ourselves.”