Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.
Generally speaking, leaders have three fundamental responsibilities:
- Vision – Leaders craft a shared vision
- Alignment – Leaders build alignment of their followers to the shared vision
- Execution – Together with their followers, leaders execute the shared vision*
OK, that’s a pretty good general definition of leadership.*
But, there are many leadership “approaches” – ways of dealing with a situation – and servant leadership is but one approach among them.
So, what makes servant leadership special?
- SERVANT LEADERSHIP IS GROUNDED IN A DEEP DESIRE TO SERVE OTHERS
That’s the primary thing that makes servant leadership different from other leadership approaches — and special.
Robert K. Greenleaf, who coined the term “servant leadership” in his important 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader, says it this way:
“The great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to such greatness.”
Since Greenleaf’s time, research in neuroscience and evolutionary biology has revealed that the desire to serve is hardwired into human beings. That’s likely why Homo sapiens have enjoyed such extraordinary evolutionary success.
Moreover, recent studies in behavioral economics show that serving behavior may be the best way to success in modern culture.
In short: serving works.
- SERVANT-LEADERS SEE THE COMMON GOOD AND SERVE IT
A better future – the vision – is the goal towards which the servant-leader leads.
It’s not a goal of narrow self-interest.
In the workplace context, it’s a goal of improved lives for a wide audience – employees, customers, vendors, shareholders and those in communities where a company operates. Servant-leaders define their stakeholders broadly.
Sometimes companies practicing servant leadership measure results on a “triple bottom line” – people (the well-being of those they serve); planet (environmental sustainability); and profit (financial performance).
Regardless of how they phrase it or measure it, the best servant-leaders want to enrich as much of the world as they can.
What do you think makes servant leadership special? What am I missing here?
Let us know.
As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!
And download our latest ebook, Servant Leadership in the Workplace: A Brief Introduction. It’s free!
* There are lots of good books on leadership, generally, that are applicable to the workplace. Two I like a lot are, Peter G. Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice, 7th Edition (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2015) and Julie Straw, Mark Scullard, Susie Kukkonen, Barry Davis, The Work of Leaders: How Vision, Alignment, and Execution Will Change the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Wiley, 2013).