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Servant leadership

 

Disciplines > Leadership > Leadership styles > Servant leadership

Assumptions | Style | Discussion | See also

 

Assumptions

The leader has responsibility for the followers.

Leaders have a responsibility towards society and those who are disadvantaged.

People who want to help others best do this by leading them.

Style

The servant leader serves others, rather than others serving the leader. Serving others thus comes by helping them to achieve and improve.

There are two criteria of servant leadership:

  • The people served grow as individuals, becoming 'healthier, wiser, more autonomous and more likely themselves to become servants' (Greenleaf, 1977).
  • The extent to which the leadership benefits those who are least advantaged in society (or at least does not disadvantage them).

Principles of servant leadership defined by the Alliance for Servant Leadership are:

  • Transformation as a vehicle for personal and institutional growth.
  • Personal growth as a route to better serve others.
  • Enabling environments that empower and encourage service.
  • Service as a fundamental goals.
  • Trusting relationships as a basic platform for collaboration and service.
  • Creating commitment as a way to collaborative activity.
  • Community building as a way to create environments in which people can trust each other and work together.
  • Nurturing the spirit as a way to provide joy and fulfilment in meaningful work.

Spears (2002) lists: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to growth of people, and building community.

An excellent example of a servant leader is Ernest Shackleton, the early 20th century explorer who, after his ship became frozen in the Antarctic life, brought every one of his 27 crew home alive, including an 800 mile journey in open boats across the winter Antarctic seas. It took two years, but Shackleton's sense of responsibility towards his men never wavered.

Discussion

Greenleaf says that true leadership "emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others." Servant leadership is a very moral position, putting the well-being of the followers before other goals.

It is easy to dismiss servant leadership as soft and easy, though this is not necessarily so, as individual followers may be expected to make sacrifices for the good of the whole, in the way of the servant leader.

The focus on the less privileged in society shows the servant leader as serving not just their followers but also the whole of society.

Servant leadership is a natural model for working in the public sector. It requires more careful interpretation in the private sector lest the needs of the shareholders and customers and the rigors of market competition are lost.

A challenge to servant leadership is in the assumption of the leader that the followers want to change. There is also the question of what 'better' is and who decides this.

Servant leadership aligns closely with religious morals and has been adopted by several Christian organizations.

See also

Greenleaf, R. (1977). Servant leadership, Paulist Press

Spears, L. C. (2002). Tracing the Past, Present, and Future of Servant-Leadership. In Focus On Leadership: Servant-leadership for the Twenty-first Century (pp. 1-10). New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, Inc

 

 

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