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Servant leaders

A relatively newly described leadership style that has emerged since the beginning of the 2000s is servant leadership.

Power means the ability to influence, if necessary, with sanctions, i.e. denying someone a right or inflicting discomfort if they do not behave at the request of the powerful. The traditional leader has a build-up of power that they use to control others. A leader in this dimension shall guide, manage, distribute work, prioritize, criticize, and straighten up their people through their formal right to manage and correct their employees.

Servant leaders are different. They share their power through empowerment and do not use their hierarchical position to leverage their agenda. They put the needs of others first and focus on growing and developing their people to bring forth their strengths and best capabilities. They ask, “what do you need?” and “how can I help”?

Robert K. Greenleaf was the first to popularize the term through his essay “The servant as a leader” way back in 1970. The most important characteristic of being a servant leader, according to Greenleaf, is making one's main priority to serve rather than to lead. In systems for connection, all work is based on relationships, teamwork, and community. It means servant leadership is a perfect match. Servant leaders seek to involve others in decision making, strongly based on ethical and caring behaviour, and attempting to enhance the personal growth of people while improving the care for customers and quality of products and services.

These are the characteristics of a servant leader:

1. Listening - The servant-leader seeks to identify the will of a team and helps clarify that will. He or she seeks to listen openly to what is being said (and not said!).

2. Empathy - People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique fortes. One assumes the good intentions of colleagues and does not reject them as people.

3. Healing - Many people have broken spirits and have suffered from a variety of emotional hurts. Servant leaders recognize that they have an opportunity to “help make whole” those with whom they come in contact.

4. Awareness - Self-awareness strengthens the servant-leader. Awareness of others and their perspective aids one in getting insight and clarity in issues involving ethics and values, enabling the leader to view most situations from a more integrated, holistic position.

5. Persuasion – A servant leader is relying primarily on persuasion, rather than using a positional authority, in making decisions within an organisation. The servant-leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance, effectively building consensus within teams.

6. Conceptualisation - The ability to look at a problem from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities. The one who wishes to be a servant-leader must stretch his or her thinking to encompass broader-based conceptual thinking. Servant-leaders are called to seek a delicate balance between conceptual thinking and a day-to-day focused approach.

7. Foresight - Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future. It is also deeply rooted within the intuitive mind.

8. Stewardship - CEOs, staffs, and trustees all play significant roles in holding their institutions in trust for the greater good of society. Servant-leadership, like stewardship, assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of others.

9. Commitment to the growth of people - Servant-leaders believes that people have inherent value beyond their visible contributions as employees. As such, the servant-leader is genuinely devoted to the growth of everyone within his or her organisation. The servant-leader acknowledges the immense duty to do everything within his or her power to cultivate the personal, professional, and spiritual growth of their people.

10. Building community – Servant leaders seek to identify some means for building community among those who work within a given organisation. Servant-leadership suggests that a true community can be created among those who work together.

Are you a servant leader?

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