What is Servant Leadership?
Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy and practice that emphasizes the leader’s primary role as a servant to their team or organization, rather than as a traditional “boss” or authority figure. The concept was popularized by Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s through his essay “The Servant as Leader.”
In servant leadership, the leader’s focus is on serving the needs of their team members, empowering them to achieve their full potential, and creating an environment that fosters collaboration, personal growth, and a sense of community.
Source: Pareto Labs
Here are some key principles of servant leadership:
1. Listening: A servant leader actively listens to their team members, valuing their input, ideas, and concerns. This helps in building trust and understanding.
2. Empathy: Servant leaders understand and empathize with the emotions and experiences of their team members. They take the time to put themselves in others’ shoes and consider their perspectives.
3. Healing: This principle involves supporting the well-being of team members, helping them address personal and professional challenges, and creating a positive and nurturing work environment.
4. Self-Awareness: A servant leader is aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and they continuously seek to improve themselves for the benefit of their team.
5. Persuasion, Not Authority: Rather than relying on positional power, servant leaders use persuasion, influence, and reasoning to guide their team members toward a common goal.
6. Conceptual Thinking: They possess the ability to think beyond immediate concerns and consider the broader picture, fostering a strategic and long-term perspective.
7. Stewardship: Servant leaders take responsibility for the well-being and development of their team and organization. They consider themselves stewards of their team’s resources and work to ensure sustainable success.
8. Commitment to the Growth of Others: A key aspect of servant leadership is the commitment to helping team members grow and develop personally and professionally.
9. Building Community: Servant leaders work to foster a sense of community and collaboration within the team or organization. They emphasize the value of working together and supporting each other’s success.
10. Putting Others First: Ultimately, servant leadership centres around prioritizing the needs of others above one’s own, with the belief that by serving others, a leader can create a more productive, engaged, and fulfilled team.
Servant leadership is often seen as a more inclusive and compassionate approach to leadership, promoting a positive organizational culture that can lead to increased job satisfaction, improved employee performance, and overall organizational success. It’s important to note that while the concept encourages a focus on serving others, it doesn’t dismiss the leader’s authority or responsibility to make decisions and guide the team toward achieving goals.
Where does the term ‘Servant Leadership’ come from?
Robert K. Greenleaf is widely credited with popularizing the concept of servant leadership through his essay titled “The Servant as Leader,” which he first published in 1970. Greenleaf’s essay was a departure from traditional leadership theories that emphasized authority, control, and power.
In “The Servant as Leader,” Greenleaf introduced the idea that a true leader should have a primary focus on serving others rather than seeking personal power or recognition. He believed that a servant leader’s main purpose is to help individuals and organizations grow, develop, and succeed. Greenleaf’s essay laid out the foundation for what would later become the philosophy of servant leadership.
The essay includes a series of thought-provoking statements and questions that challenge the conventional notions of leadership:
• “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.”: Greenleaf emphasized that a servant leader’s desire to serve others is the starting point of their leadership journey. This idea stands in contrast to leaders who prioritize their own ambitions or authority.
• “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”: Greenleaf proposed that the effectiveness of a leader should be measured by the personal and professional growth of those they lead. A servant leader’s influence should lead to the empowerment and development of their team members.
• “The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow spiritually, do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”: Greenleaf extended his concept of servant leadership to the spiritual and ethical well-being of individuals. He believed that a servant leader should contribute to the overall ethical and moral growth of their followers.
• “Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.”: Greenleaf’s essay also discussed how the principles of servant leadership could extend beyond organizational contexts and contribute to the creation of a more just and compassionate society.
Robert K. Greenleaf’s essay sparked a new perspective on leadership that has had a lasting impact on how leaders and organizations approach their roles and responsibilities. Since the publication of “The Servant as Leader,” the concept of servant leadership has gained recognition in various fields, including business, education, nonprofit organizations, and more. It has inspired numerous discussions, studies, and practical applications of the philosophy in leadership development and organizational management.
How Servant Leadership has changed over time
Servant leadership has evolved and undergone changes over time in response to shifts in leadership philosophies, organizational dynamics, and societal expectations. Here are some ways in which servant leadership has changed:
1. Increased Awareness and Acceptance: Since its inception, servant leadership has gained greater awareness and acceptance. More organizations and leaders have recognized the value of prioritizing the needs of their team members and fostering a supportive environment.
2. Integration into Leadership Theories: The principles of servant leadership have been integrated into various leadership theories and practices. This integration has led to a more holistic approach to leadership that emphasizes empathy, collaboration, and empowerment.
3. Diverse Applications: While initially associated with business leadership, servant leadership principles have expanded to other fields, including education, healthcare, non-profits, and government. The adaptability of the concept has led to its broader adoption across different sectors.
4. Global Perspective: Servant leadership was originally developed within a Western context, but its principles have been embraced and adapted in various cultural settings around the world. This expansion has led to a more diverse understanding of how servant leadership can manifest across different cultures.
5. Research and Literature: Over the years, there has been a growing body of research and literature exploring servant leadership’s effects on employee engagement, organizational culture, and performance. This has contributed to a deeper understanding of its benefits and challenges.
6. Technological Impact: Advances in technology have changed the way leaders communicate and interact with their teams. Servant leadership principles have been applied to virtual teams and remote work environments, highlighting the importance of trust and empowerment in these settings.
7. Emphasis on Well-Being: Contemporary servant leadership has increasingly focused on the well-being and work-life balance of employees. Leaders now recognize the importance of supporting their team members’ mental, emotional, and physical health.
8. Inclusion and Diversity: Modern servant leadership places a stronger emphasis on inclusion and diversity, acknowledging the importance of valuing and respecting the unique perspectives and backgrounds of team members.
9. Sustainability and Social Responsibility: Many leaders now view servant leadership as a way to promote sustainability and social responsibility. This includes considering the impact of decisions on the environment, society, and future generations.
10. Ongoing Development: While the core principles of servant leadership remain consistent, leaders continue to refine and adapt their approaches based on ongoing learning, feedback, and changing organizational contexts.
In summary, servant leadership has evolved to reflect changing leadership landscapes and the diverse needs of organizations and their members. It has moved beyond being a novel concept to becoming an established philosophy that informs how leaders guide their teams and contribute to the success and well-being of their organizations.
How is Servant Leadership used within IT Transformation?
Servant leadership can play a significant role in IT transformation initiatives by fostering a collaborative, adaptive, and people-centric approach to change. Here’s how servant leadership principles can be applied within the context of IT transformation:
1. Empowerment and Trust: Servant leaders in IT transformation empower their team members by trusting them to make decisions and take ownership of their work. This can be especially important during periods of change, as team members need to feel empowered to contribute their expertise and ideas to the transformation process.
2. Active Listening: Servant leaders listen attentively to the concerns, ideas, and feedback of their team members. During an IT transformation, this listening approach helps leaders understand the challenges and opportunities that arise, allowing them to make informed decisions and adjustments as needed.
3. Supporting Skill Development: IT transformations often involve adopting new technologies, processes, or methodologies. Servant leaders support their team members’ skill development by providing resources, training, and mentorship to ensure they have the tools they need to succeed in the new environment.
4. Removing Obstacles: Servant leaders identify and remove obstacles that hinder their team’s progress during the transformation. This can involve addressing technical issues, bureaucratic challenges, or any barriers that prevent the team from effectively adapting to the changes.
5. Leading by Example: Servant leaders lead by example, demonstrating a willingness to learn, adapt, and embrace change themselves. This can inspire the team to follow suit and be open to the transformations taking place.
6. Clear Communication: Effective communication is crucial in IT transformations. Servant leaders ensure that communication is clear, transparent, and consistent to keep the team informed about the goals, progress, and changes in the transformation journey.
7. Collaboration and Teamwork: Servant leadership promotes a sense of community and collaboration. In IT transformations, this means fostering an environment where team members work together, share knowledge, and support one another to achieve common goals.
8. Adaptability: Servant leaders recognize that IT transformations may evolve over time due to changing requirements or unforeseen challenges. They are adaptable and encourage their team to be flexible in their approach, promoting continuous improvement.
9. Caring for Well-Being: Amid the pressures of IT transformations, servant leaders prioritize the well-being of their team members. They ensure that the workload is manageable, offer support when needed, and encourage work-life balance.
10. Long-Term Vision: Servant leaders consider the long-term impact of the IT transformation on the organization and its members. They focus on sustainable solutions that will benefit the team and the organization in the long run.
By applying servant leadership principles in IT transformation, leaders can create an environment where team members feel valued, empowered, and motivated to embrace change. This can lead to smoother transitions, increased team morale, and ultimately, the successful implementation of IT transformation initiatives.
Contrasting Servant Leadership with Different Leadership Approaches
Servant Leadership vs. Transformational Leadership:
• Focus: Servant leadership emphasizes serving and empowering others, while transformational leadership focuses on inspiring and motivating followers to achieve extraordinary outcomes.
• Approach: Servant leaders prioritize the well-being and growth of their team members. Transformational leaders are charismatic and strive to create a shared vision that energizes and mobilizes the team toward achieving goals.
• Communication: Servant leaders emphasize active listening and open communication. Transformational leaders communicate a compelling vision and encourage followers to shar