Four Symbols of a Servant Leader
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
A team leader encouraged a group of teenagers to hike for fifteen miles through difficult terrain in 90-degree heat to reach the top. When they all got to the summit, the leader asked everyone to sit down. Thinking he wanted to talk about their journey or success, the teenagers were surprised when he quietly pulled out a jug of water and a large bowl he’d quietly carried with him on the hike. He then asked the teenagers to take off their shoes and he gently and intentionally washed each person’s feet. He applied salve over blisters, provided bandages for those who needed it and offered each person a new pair of socks for the return journey. Symbolically, what message did the foot-washing ceremony send to the team?
Are employees looking for servant leadership in business?
Think about the messages you send as a leader, intentionally or unintentionally. While washing the feet of your employees is certainly not expected, what are you doing to encourage others? Today, more than ever, employees (and voters around the globe) are disengaged and less productive than at any time in history. Is it time to consider a focus on servant leadership? According to Robert Greenleaf, considered the Father of Servant Leadership, “Servant leadership begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”
Greenleaf believed that servant leadership was a long-term, aspirational concept that if applied, could potentially impact the whole society. He viewed servant leadership as transformational in reframing how to treat leadership, service and accountability. Proponents believe that it can improve employee satisfaction, enhance innovation, encourage diversity, boost work-life balance and stimulate continuous learning and development. Critics claim it is unrealistic and that there is a lack of empirical research. Even so, with workplace incivility on the rise, there is a movement to offer a more humane work environment. Take a look at four of the characteristics of servant leaders and consider how these behaviors might inform your own leadership (we’ve also provided a link to our Behaviors of Servant Leaders Checklist for your review).
1. Are humble. They’re aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. They willingly advance others before themselves and show a charitable and generous nature. They are willing to take on tasks and assignments–including work that others might avoid.
2. Listen first. They ask others what they think and then pay attention to the answer. They believe that each person has unique gifts to offer and look for ways to listen and learn.
3. Focus on other’s growth. They have a genuine interest in others and the contributions they can make. They look for ways to get others to try new things and develop their potential as well as their underutilized strengths.
4. Help others do their best. They identify and remove obstacles that might get in the way of others’ success. When others succeed, they “spotlight” those accomplishments and tell others.
Listen to the Baltimore Ravens’ Head Coach John Harbaugh and his definition of servant leadership.
“No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” Luke 22:16