Great Leaders Practice Servant-Leadership
The term “servant-leadership” was initially coined by Robert Greenleaf, an executive for 40 years with AT&T. Greenleaf was originally inspired by Herman Hesse’s novel “Journey to the East,” which Greenleaf read in 1958.
For many years, Greenleaf researched management, professional development and education. As he read and wrote, Greenleaf developed a suspicion that the authoritarian leadership style prominent among major American companies was not successful.
In 1964, he took early retirement from AT&T to found the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
Greenleaf’s approach has been characterized by others as embodying 10 characteristics:
- Commitment to the Growth of People
- Building Community
Greenleaf’s idea was not that all people who possess each of these traits are automatically excellent leaders, but that leaders must consistently practice and demonstrate each of these traits in an ethical manner to create a lasting framework for a true leadership culture.
Servant-leadership means that leaders are always in service to the people they lead.
This concept is challenging to model because it runs counter to so many traditional views of leadership.
To practice true servant-leadership, we must get to know the people we lead as human beings and not merely as employees.
We should know their professional and personal goals, be cognizant of their family situations, be familiar with their backgrounds, and understand what motivates them.
To get to this level of familiarity with our teammates, we must do the one thing that is guaranteed to take us away from our phones, our computers and our desks – spend quality time with them over breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner, after-work drinks or at a professional event. During a pandemic, we can do it over Zoom.
We do not have to become friends with our colleagues or socialize with them; in fact, many leadership experts would label such behavior a mistake.
However, if we want our people to go the extra mile for us or for our office, we must show them that we are invested in their personal and professional growth, that we “get” them and that we will support them in pursuing their dreams.
People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. This old statement is still valid in 2020 – and I have seen it play out during my career: