The servant leader is a unique and rare animal. Anyone who’s been blessed to work with a boss who demonstrates servant leadership knows what a dramatic impact it can have on employee morale and company performance.
Unfortunately, they’re hard to come by, partially because the traits that mark servant leadership are rarely what people identify as prototypical leadership characteristics. Young people aren’t taught about what it even means to be a servant in leadership or why it would be beneficial.
And, if we’re honest, the patterns of behavior that mark a servant leader are hard to do. It’s easy to act like one when you’re conscious of it, but when the pressure is on who you are naturally tends to come out. To practice servant leadership on a consistent basis requires a level of character, self-confidence and discipline that many of us simply haven’t developed.
What does a servant leader actually look like?
- Servant leaders accept the role of leadership humbly – they approach it as something they’re called to do vs. something they have a right to do.
- They spend considerable time focusing on building up their team, motivating them, coaching them, giving them the freedom to experiment and fail and grow and get better.
- They will get their hands dirty when necessary – because they don’t approach their role as one of power or superiority, they are more than happy to pitch in and do whatever it takes to get the job done.
- Their priorities tend follow this pattern: 1) Family, 2) Employees, 3) Customers, 4) Profits, 5) Self. (I would argue that for many leaders, the pattern they follow is exactly the opposite.)
How to tell if you’re a servant leader
Human beings are fantastic at self-deception, at convincing ourselves that we have more virtues and fewer flaws than are really there. And I bet if you asked 100 leaders, the majority of them would say they demonstrate the above traits on a regular basis. But is it true?
The best way I’ve heard to tell if you are genuinely a servant leader is to ask yourself the following question:
If someone came along who was legitimately better equipped to lead your organization than you were, and if you had the opportunity to bring that person into the fold, would you voluntarily share responsibility with them or step down and take on another role in the organization?
Just as the best way to test your attachment to money is to give it away, the best way to see if you approach leadership as a calling and not a right is to ask yourself if you’re willing to give it up.
For many leaders, if they’re honest, the answer to this question would be no. It certainly was for me when I first heard it, and I still grapple with it today.
What about you? If you knew that someone could take your organization to the next level if you were willing to get out of the way, would you do it? After making it to the leadership summit, would you have the humility to return to a role of followership if it were the right thing for the organization and the team?