I was a Sergeant Major in the Canadian Army.
I held the second-highest non-commissioned officer rank and had a role that I loved and aspired. It was a job of power and influence. I carried a responsibility to my soldiers and, most importantly, to my leaders.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Latin root of the words ‘Sergeant Major’ was ‘Head Servant.’
Once I got over the indignation of being a servant, I realized my job was one of service.
Introduction to Servant Leadership Theory
Servant Leadership is a leadership philosophy first espoused by Robert Greenleaf in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader,” in which he states that servant leaders are servants first and leaders later. This is in sharp contrast to what many see as traditional leaders who aspire to lead through power and acquiring material benefits.
Many management thinkers such as Blanchard, Covey and Senge have since then reinforced the Servant Leadership Theory. More recently, Simon Sinek has made millions with his Leaders Eat Last book by encapsulating the importance of service to achieve your results.
The essence of servant leadership—serve the employees first and success will follow—is thousands of years old, dating back to hundreds of centuries to India and China, the Bible and texts of Islam. In contemporary practice, it means actively listening to employees, treating them as people with needs, interests and failings, and respecting their roles in the company and the world.
Unfortunately, the concept of servant leadership tends towards philosophical musings with little practical application. Worse than that, many people read into the concept that as leaders that they must cede power and authority to their employees.
5 Ways To Free Yourself From The Philosophic Tyranny
Servant Leadership does not mean you prostrate yourself to your employees but there are everyday habits leaders can incorporate into their management routines that can have powerful results.
►Listen. Pay attention to how you interact in face-to-face conversations, large groups and meetings. Find meaningful ways to invite feedback and suggestions. (Read more about using silence)
►Appreciate. Instead of assuming people will do things wrong, shift your attitude to look for people doing things right. Learn to appreciate that no one shows up to work to do a poor job and tell them you appreciate them. (Read about saying thank you)
►Respect. Do you treat the janitor the same respect as the CEO? You, as the leader, set your team’s culture of respect.
►Develop. Do you offer your employees the tools to become the best they can be? Provide training, professional development, book clubs or other personal growth tools? Emphasize coaching over controlling.
►Unleash. People have power and energy so how can you help them develop it? Decentralizing as many decisions as possible so employees can help you achieve your results.
Over the next weeks, I’ll unpack Servant Leadership in more detail.
I hope to turn those philosophical nuggets into practical and applicable tools you can use to get results.