Servant Leadership in Business
Servant leadership is a new trend in the philosophy of doing business that is becoming increasingly popular among managers that like to keep themselves informed and one step ahead of the latest discoveries in the field of good practices of sailing the shifting waters of business. But at the same time, servant leadership, although becoming more popular by the minute, isn’t actually such a new find in the field of business. It corresponds to an ancient Chinese philosophy going back at least 2000 years, which is surprisingly actual and valid in our contemporary business context. This is why, in spite of its ancient roots, the set of principles and the guidelines comprising this business style are considered the cutting-edge trend of today’s business theory.
Servant Leadership: Origins and Overview
In the views of Lao-Tzu (570 BCE – 490 BCE), the great Chinese thinker whose ancient thoughts survived comprised in the Tao Te Ching, a great leader isn’t made out of the fear or respect he is able to command in his followers. Instead, the greatest form of leadership is one which is not immediately seen or heard, while the second greatest leader is the one loved and praised, the third is the one feared and the last one is a leader the people despise. The servant leadership style of ruling, therefore, implies a presence which the people who are ruled aren’t immediately aware of, but who helps the people achieve their goals and common happiness together, without realizing they were guided too much.
The concept was therefore sketched by the ancient Chinese philosopher, but it only came to be known under its current name, ‘servant leadership’ in 1970, when Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase in an essay he published, called “The Servant as Leader”. In it, he says that a servant-leader is characterized by a need to serve first, before leading or ruling. The driving force of such a leader is the impulse to make everyone he leads healthier, happier, wiser and to help them grow as people, until they can become servants themselves (by servants, he means people concerned with the public well-being).
Principles of Servant Leadership Today
In today’s management theory, servant leadership can be closely equated with the participative leadership style, as defined by Blake and Mouton’s managerial grid model, which states that a good manager delegates responsibilities and encourages the group to take decisions together, in the participative style. But the core of this philosophy goes beyond how you manage the business meetings, and relies more on the true values which you invest into your work. The more good you invest in that work, the more good will be returned to you and what you are building.
A servant-leader type of manager can be distinguished by ten characteristics (as defined by Larry Spears):
- Commitment to the growth of others
- A community-building orientation
These are all considered crucial components of effective leadership by other recent business theorists, such as Deal, Covey, Fullan and many others. As you can notice, the main focus of the leader they all describe isn’t as much to dominate others or to make them follow orders, as it is to simply make them achieve their common tasks together, organically, at a relaxed and comfortable pace, while also learning in the process. Only this way will the quality of the work rise up to the expectation of any business manager; pressure and a commandeering presence will not help activate the best in people, in the way that only an intuitive and empathic leader can.
You too, can make your business almost run itself if you strive to become more of a people-oriented manager by practicing the servant leadership style. Once you will start implementing this change and people will gradually become more aware of how their extra dedication and passion can improve everything, you will notice how the quality of everything produced under your supervision will dramatically improve. This couldn’t have been achieved in the old style of classical leadership, where people were more likely to be respectful or scared of you rather than being inspired by you. Moral authority and leading by example and humbleness are at the core of servant leadership, and by the looks of it, managers which switch to this style report immense growth in the people as well as the business departments.
Terry Findley, Business guy, Marketing guru, family man, designs, writes, and markets for over 400 websites including Bare Foot Spirit.