Authentic Leadership= Servant Leadership

The Leader’s Responsibilities

Leadership and management can be very depleting. When I’m tired I don’t always seem to have it in me to be patient and generous. I make a quick decision instead of empowering, solve the problem instead of showing someone how, choose to do it myself rather than take the moment to delegate effectively.

In my experience, however, these seemingly quicker and easier approaches make it much harder in the long-term to lead our people and organisations effectively. Despite our good intentions, over time we lose our people’s respect, trust, and commitment altogether. I am putting me first and not them.

As leaders, is it possible to be both strong and caring, decisive and helping, directive and resourcing? Both a leader and a humble servant?

Experience tells us that selfless service is empowering and enabling. It engages the human spirit and elicits from us the very best we have to offer. It is therefore not surprising that Servant Leadership is one of the most attractive, compelling, and enduring leadership models of all time.

It is said that in servant leadership we descend into greatness.

What is Servant Leadership?

Although Robert K. Greenleaf is credited with coining the term servant leadership in 1970, the concept of servant leadership is not new; it’s been latent in the human soul forever and there have been many incredible servant leaders throughout history.

Servant leadership is not a leadership technique as such, but a philosophy and way of behaving that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.

As Greenleaf said in his well-known 1970 essay ‘Servant as Leader’:

Servant-first leaders begin with the natural desire to serve.

He believed that “an organization can nurture the spirit of its employees while still making a profit” and that servant leadership is relevant and constructive in a hyper-competitive, commercial marketplace.

How do you become a Servant Leader?

Provided there is the foundation of a sincere purpose and genuine desire to serve, the appropriate skills, processes, and tools which make a servant leader increasingly effective can be developed and used in the service of others.

The intermediary step, however, is choice.

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”  

Plato, quoting Aristotle

12 Characteristics and Behaviours of an Authentic Servant Leader

These key attributes of authentic servant leaders can be enhanced through intentional development empowered by humility.

1. Desire to Serve

Makes the choice to focus on the good of others first. Mucks in on the ‘dirty work’ when needed by the team.

2. Listens and Empathises

Values and strives to understand others: their world view, strengths, weaknesses, feelings, temperaments, and aspirations. Adapts his own communication style to meet the needs and expectations of the other person. A lifelong learner who strives to become not only a better leader, but a lover of people.

3. Conceptualises

Shapes the present in light of a better future. Raises and extends others’ line of sight – Looks beyond the day-to-day and provides direction and raises hope. Makes the bigger vision known and inspires and empowers others to run with the vision, and take personal ownership.

4. Builds Community

Helps people find their home in the community of their colleagues. Identifies and enlists their talents. Provides opportunities for connection and contribution. Delegates authority rather than using authority. Provides healthy community development with training, teaching and gatherings that allow vulnerability to be established so people can build one another up relating to each others failures, victories, strengths and weaknesses.

5. Persuades

To gain commitment rather than simply convincing to achieve compliance. Builds consensus. Negotiates on consistent principles and interests rather than positions.

6. Foresight

Stays ahead of what’s happening around. Evaluates decisions and possible consequences; considers unintended consequences. Pays attention and is aware of all sides of an issue. Un-biased.

7. Self-awareness

Grows ever wiser from experiential learning. Open to feedback and willing to change. Manages emotions. Consistent in actions and morality. True to the principles of leadership they espouse. Exercises self control.

8. Insight

Allows intuition to influence decisions. Does quality analysis. Understands situations and people at a greater depth. Discerns motives and character. Exercises wisdom and is able to see past presenting issues to understand and address root causes.

9. Stewardship

Accepts responsibility. Considers and plans for the good of all stakeholders – individual, team, organization, customers, partners, community, and society as a whole. Holds employees accountable for their commitments and values-based behavior. Encourages enhanced moral reasoning among followers. Forgives offence and failure. Promotes service as a lifestyle. Creates avenues for service. (Volunteerism)

10. Healing Mentality

Relates to others as whole persons mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Cares about whole lives not just their job role. Serves followers for their own good as well as the good of the organization. Diligently demonstrates personal integrity. Helps people navigate a healing journey, holding them accountable to their process.

11. Grows

Encourages initiative, entrepreneurship, and learning. Develops leadership capability in people and throughout the organization. Thinks long-term – next generation, next leader. Always building for “next generation” legacy. Creates “forerunners” to lead the upcoming generation, from within the upcoming generation. Creates a succession environment to protect long term sustainability.

12. Protects

Cultivates a culture of authentic acceptance, respect, trust, safety, and security. Upholds high moral and ethical standards throughout the organization while encouraging freedom of expression within clear boundaries.

Servant leaders love the people they lead. They are “called” to leadership. Their purpose is to raise others up to lead. Their calling and purpose is to raise those they lead up to be greater than they could ever be.

Then, they have “succeeded.”

BH/With Ross Wilson

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