The Servant Leader: The Gift of Your Leadership

Susan S Freeman Blog

This week’s Step Up Leader post borrows from a timely post in Leading Blog. In the midst of the busy holiday season and the crush of important and urgent matters, it may be challenging to think about leadership priorities.  Yet, it’s the perfect time to think of leadership as a long-term practice based in giving, rather than getting.  Leadership is ultimately about serving others so let’s look at concept of being a servant leader.

This concept of servant leadership isn’t new. According to The Greenleaf Center, “servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.”

While the concept of being a servant leader is timeless, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:

“In servant leadership, other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

What Does It Mean to be a Servant Leader?

A servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” a servant leader is different. The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

[notification type=”alert-info” close=”false”] In Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia’s remarkable book, Everybody Matters, they explain the idea this way:

“So many American businesses destroy lives every day, but we make a lot of money, and then we feel really good when we write a check to the United Way for $1 million. But I believe we are creating the need for the United Way in the first place by destroying the lives of people who create the wealth that enable us to give. I believe the greatest charity is what we could do at work every day to take care of the people entrusted to us.

The greatest gift, the greatest charity we can give back to society is to be truly human leaders who treat the people under our leadership with profound respect and care and not as objects for our success and wealth. In other words, we need to see ourselves as stewards of the lives we have been given an opportunity to lead and influence.”
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To steward this kind of leadership in an organization requires leaders to give ownership of the future to every member of the organization.

I am privileged to work with leaders who inspire me daily through their commitment to serving others as leaders. These courageous, purposeful, and disciplined individuals are dedicated to growing businesses-but not at the expense of caring for and about the people in their organizations. We started with a leadership discovery session and once we determine their leadership challenges, we put together a strategy to overcome them. Where there was disconnect, we have repaired it; where there was lack of clarity, we re-focused; where there was reluctance, we have empowered. One of my clients reports that “since we’ve been working together, everything is better. We are listening to each other. We respect each other. We are learning together. We are boldly moving towards new opportunities, about which we have concern and apprehension, yet we are doing it anyway. This kind of leadership starts at the top, and is emboldened through the culture through the type of work we do with our clients and teams, day in and day out.

As a busy leader, during this holiday season, ask everyone you influence, “How can I serve you?” It may be the best present they will receive, and the most gratifying one you may give.

We invite you to post your comments here. To learn more about how you can lead as if everyone matters, contact me here.

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