Guest view: The meaning of servant leadership
Over the years I've witnessed varied leadership styles and gained some sense of where they ultimately led the leader, their teams and their organization.
This progressively shaped my personal belief system and leadership style. It was only recently that I discovered this mindset/style actually has a name: servant leadership. And since then, I’ve found that most professionals haven’t heard the name either. Following is an explanation of what servant leadership means to me, powerful principles in doing good for organizations and people:
Internal spirit of service and selflessness. We seek our purpose, in being part of something greater than ourselves. We intentionally look to add value not just to organizations but also its people — all of them. We serve and put them first, above our personal interests. Author John Maxwell put it this way: “I serve you and add value to you to the extent that your success I consider my success, your win is my win. People see beyond a leader’s skills, they see their heart and that’s where you get the loyalty of your people and your team.” We believe our greatest leadership legacy is the value given to people along the way.
Seeking authentic power not authority. We seek positions of responsibility as a means to fulfill our potential and make a positive impact on organizations and people — not for pride, image or hierarchical authority. We realize that authentic power is far more real and impactful, as it’s based on loyalty and character, and provides potential to influence others far beyond any official hierarchy. We don’t need to control others — as we don’t define ourselves by our role or hierarchy but rather by the difference we foster, directly or indirectly, to the organization and its people.
Commitment to growth and collaboration. We believe everyone has unique gifts and potential, and helping one another is essential to nurturing that potential. And we believe that an individual’s desire to grow and realize their potential is a universal, powerful motivator. We also understand that the greatest achievements in life are rarely the work of one individual but rather of supportive collaboration.
Foundation of truth and integrity. We conduct ourselves as a truth seeker, not defender of self or preferences or biases. We operate with integrity, which not only means honesty but also taking a stand for what is right even when it’s unpopular to do so.
Competence and authentic confidence. We believe there is no substitute for competence, and we have this foundation for our role or we won’t accept the position. Likewise, we have confidence to make wise choices. However, it’s authentic confidence founded in wisdom and experience not hubristic pride or a façade stemming from insecurity.
Spirit of thankfulness and abundance. We are thankful for the people and circumstances in our lives and view opportunities through a lens of abundance. We don’t need to cling to our departmental turfs in a defensive posture — ensuring no one can learn what we know or shine too much. Rather, it is the spirit of abundance that permits us to serve and share and put others before ourselves. We believe our approach yields abundant opportunities to make a positive difference, often paved by those we’ve served, and we know we’ll find our way and justly benefit from our good work in meaningful ways. We have a growth focus of faith, not fear.
Strength of character and decisiveness. Serving organizational interests and serving people are not mutually exclusive. But we must sometimes make tough calls. For example, parting ways with an employee may be the best way of serving the organization and all others. Likewise, serving others doesn’t mean we’ll tolerate being taken advantage of, as we will assuredly stand strong. In short, we have an organization to run, and if it’s not run well we’ll all suffer; concurrently, we serve one another to best benefit people (and by extension the organization) in myriad ways.
Passion with self-control. We let our passions show through, as it fuels us and inspires our followers. But there is a difference between passion and anger with lack of self-control, the latter being counter-productive energy. Instead, we aim to consistently respond with thoughtfulness, wisdom and self-control.
Humility and attentive listening. We listen more than we talk. We are secure in the virtue of our motives, such that we don’t need to control every meeting. We are willing to learn from anyone, just as they may learn from us. And we are willing to reveal we’re human, admitting imperfections or sharing past mistakes.
Why servant leadership? Because it’s a more evolved way to live and lead. Because it keeps our eyes on the big picture of what truly matters. Because it helps us rise above petty politics. Because we know intuitively that the universe has a way of balancing what we get with what we give. And because it is the best way to bring the brightest ideas, quality and productivity to fuel organizational success.
Tim Strickler is CFO of Advantage Engineers in Upper Allen Township, Cumberland County, and principal of Strickler Consulting LLC, a professional services firm in Springettsbury Township, York County, offering interim CFO and strategic project services. A former finance executive at The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., he can be reached at email@example.com or 717-870-8547.