Several years ago, I participated in a program called Leadership Broward. The program is designed to encourage business leaders to become active community stewards. One of the concepts shared during the program was the concept of servant leadership. I found it fascinating.
A while back, I was reminded of the virtues of servant leadership after seeing a quote from Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines. “To be an excellent leader, you have to be a superb follower.” This is the essence of servant leadership.
To give you a little history, servant leadership was started in the 1970’s by Robert Greenleaf, Director of Management Research at AT&T. Greenleaf’s job was to study how the best leaders emerged in organizations. During the same time, Greenleaf was personally troubled by the student unrest on college and university campuses.
SPOILER ALERT: “The Journey to the East” is about a group of people traveling to a new land. Accompanying the group is their servant, Leo, who sings songs and takes care of their stuff. During the trip, Leo disappears. The group struggles to stay together and eventually disbands. Several years later, it’s discovered that Leo – the group’s servant – was really their leader.
Inspired by Leo’s character, Greenleaf realizes the key to leadership lies in “serving” (aka focusing on the people you manage) and writes what’s considered to be his most famous essay, The Servant as Leader, outlining 10 basic competencies associated with servant leadership. I’ve highlighted a few of them below.
- Commitment to developing people – Leaders help others become good leaders.
- Empathy – Leaders not only identify with others, but accept them for who they are.
- Listening – A leader responds to a problem by listening first.
- Conceptualization – Leaders articulate a clear vision with passion, which engages and energizes the rest of the team.
- Foresight – Leaders can sense the future. It’s what Greenleaf says gives leaders their “lead.” As leaders, we must use good decision making skills. And we should remember that a lack of decision making can be perceived as an ethical failure.
- Awareness – We’ve heard the term perception is reality. Leaders must open the doors of perception and see what’s inside. This can be pretty scary. But it’s necessary to provide reality and see things in perspective.
Greenleaf’s writings have taken some knocks over time. But in reading his words, I find it amazing that over thirty years later, many (if not all) of the characteristics are still associated with leadership. Maybe not called by the same name, but the traits are similar.
There’s no silver bullet to being a good leader. But if there was, maybe first serving the people around you is it.
Image courtesy of Qtea