The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test 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?The Servant as Leader
Robert K. Greenleaf
Retire AT&T executive, Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990), created the term “servant-leadership” and propelled a unobtrusive upheaval in which we view and practice leadership in the 1970’s. Nearly five decades later the notion of servant-leadership is increasingly viewed as an ideal leadership form to which countless people and organizations aspire. Today there is an unparalleled eruption of interest and practice in servant-leadership.
Businesses and not-for-profit organizations are moving away from the more traditional autocratic and hierarchical models of leadership. Toward what, you ask? The move is toward “relational” servant-leadership with others. Servant-leadership seeks to engage others in decision-making, is intensely grounded in ethical and compassionate behavior, enhancing the personal growth of workers while improving the considerate and excellence of life within any organization.
Sometimes the term conjures thoughts of opposites, bringing those words intentionally together gave rise to this contradictory term. Many of today’s creative minds—leadership authors and advocates—are speaking and writing about servant leadership as the standard for now. The list is lengthy. A short list includes people such as Margaret Wheatley, Max DePree, Larraine Matusak, Parker Palmer, M. Scott Peck, Peter Senge, Stephen Covey, and Peter Vaill. Servant leadership has become the core of important thinking and significant leadership.
With that, here are ten characteristics of a Servant-Leader
- Listening: A servant-leader must learn the art of “listening to hear; not listening to respond.” Growth and well-being are essential and come from this important skill.
- Empathy: Understanding and empathizing with others is a must for the servant-leader and the most successful leader is a skilled empathetic listener, combining two very important characteristics.
- Awareness: This characteristic helps one in understanding issues involving morals, power and values.
- Persuasion: Rather than relying on positional authority, reliance on persuasion where the servant-leader convinces others rather than coercion. Building consensus within groups is the emphasis of persuasion.
- Healing: One of the great strengths of a servant-leader is the ability to heal self and relationships to others, helping to make whole those they come in contact.
- Foresight: The ability to foresee the likely outcome of a situation is hard to define, but easier to identify. It is deeply rooted within an intuitive mind.
- Stewardship: This characteristic assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of others, where the place of business is in trust for the good of society.
- Conceptualization: Closely related to foresight, conceptualization involves dreaming, thinking beyond day to day realities long term, seeing the horizon and not caught up with the road in front or short-term goals.
- Commitment to the value and growth of people: Valuing people beyond their tangible contributions as workers is a characteristic of servant-leaders. A servant leader recognizes their responsibility to nurture personal and professional growth of colleagues and employees.
- Community builders: In the shirt from local community to large institutions, the servant-leader is aware of this trend and seeks to build and rebuild community within the institution.
Though not exhaustive, these characteristics serve to communicate power and promise that the concept of servant-leadership is of value to those open to the challenge.
You may find the characteristics occur effortlessly within some individuals. And like many natural predilections, they can be enriched through learning and practice. The hope of servant-leadership is in creating better, more caring, institutions—businesses and nonprofits both.
About Michael Stickler
Mike is an author, radio host, and a highly sought-after motivational speaker. His best-selling book, A Journey to Generosity, is widely acclaimed throughout the Christian community. He is the publisher of Generous Living Magazine and writes for the Christian Post, 'A Generous Life' column. Over the course of his career, Mike has published over forty books that have made a difference through thousands of churches, nonprofits and foundations as they serve the world.