“<insert boss’s first name here>, the Impaler”
These are just a few of the unflattering names disillusioned employees give to their oppressive supervisors. There are many more names and some which can’t be printed here. Just Google “mean names for bad bosses” and you get almost 2.3 million results.
So, when you hear the term “servant leader” it might as well be “alien life form.” It is such a strange management concept. A business leader who has a servant’s attitude? Huh? Run that by me, again?
In Vic Sassone’s article titled, “Servant Leadership” and found at the Baldrige Resource Library (www.baldrigeresourcelibrary.com), just such a concept is explored (and with diagrams, even.) I was familiar with the concept but had never read any articles about it other than those found in Christian or religious publications.
So, when I found this article on Baldrige Resource Library’s site, I had to read the title twice. As someone who has experienced strong and weak management, the topic intrigued me. What exactly does a “servant leader” look like, anyway?
Sassone not only describes a servant leader but, by the end of the article, he makes you wish you had known one or brings back nostalgic feelings for the one you had. More importantly, he tells you how you can become one.
According to Sassone, there are two keys to being a servant leader:
The key for me is the assertion that a servant leader is about growing people. I like to rephrase Greenleaf’s definition by saying that servant leadership is a style of leadership based on motivating, directing and transforming others by attempting
to meet their spiritual and physical needs.
By spiritual needs, I mean that part of us that longs for inspiration, challenge
and encouragement. And, by physical needs, I mean the collection of skills, knowledge and resources that equip us to perform and excel in a chosen endeavor.
“Growing people” can be defined as “the values, attitudes, and behaviors that are necessary to intrinsically motivate one’s self and others so that they have a sense of spiritual well-being through calling and membership and, ultimately, become more organizationally committed and productive.”
As you keep reading, you will hit on one strong and little-used word outside of religious circles: Calling. As a servant leader your “calling” is creating a vision for other managers and employees with trust and loyalty toward an expectation of a reward through excellence. Your “calling” isn’t a power game or some clever goal-setting, at all. It’s so much deeper than that.
Lest you think this all sounds kind of existential, let’s look at what, unfortunately, passes for management in some quarters:
- incompetence (unable to explain company procedures, blame games, pretense)
- lack of ethics (taking credit for an employee’s or colleague’s work)
- dishonest communications (closed-door meetings, “gotcha” emails, gossip)
- showing favoritism (cronyism, hiring inexperienced or unqualified managers)
- hypocrisy (having one set of rules for management and one for employees)
- arrogance (never admitting to mistakes)
- procedure over common sense (thick manuals filled with rules and procedures which are difficult to remember or practice)
- ineptitude (managers who are unable to perform their duties correctly)
- divisiveness (pitting management against employee, i.e. “power games”)
- micromanagement (hovering over employees, reviewing/creating employee schedules, setting unrealistic goals)
Too often managers (CEOs, Middle Managers, Supervisors, etc.), abuse their position and think of their employees as “servants”. They and their cronies look at employees under them as “subjects” who have to “ruled”. In this type of destructive atmosphere, morale plummets, performance suffers and employees leave.
As someone who has seen all of the above played out in the workplace, I would have welcomed a “servant leader”. A CEO or manager who took their vision and viewed it as a calling and then encourages and equips their employees to own that vision goes a long way in the sometimes-imperious world of management.
Sassone lists several ways a servant leader can do that. All of them are realistic and relevant, but one, in particular, stood out to me:
Leaders are people builders. They help people to grow because the leader realizes that the more people grow‚ the stronger the organization will be.
If you ever want to be a manager or you’re a manager now, please read this article. The lists and diagrams are helpful. But, above all, understand that the concept of being a “servant leader” is not alien or clinical or religious. It’s a sensible model that is worth emulating for your employees and your fellow managers. After all, there are enough tyrants in the world.
Pursue excellence by building people not palaces.
Become a servant leader.