Are you a slave to servant leadership?
It isn’t about giving and giving and giving.
Here’s an example of getting it wrong. Jane (not her real name) was at the end of her tether. She’d busted her guts to get everyone nice, new office furniture.
Nearly everyone was grateful. And they let Jane know:
Thank you, this is so much better. It feels good to come here now. It looks nice and is comfortable too.
With one exception. Betty. As usual, nothing seems to please her. Instead, Betty said in a grumpy tone as if she was majorly inconvenienced:
I’ll have to put my things back how they were now.
Jane is sick of this. It’s like Betty is the one bad apple that spoils the bunch. Jane’s desire to ‘serve’ her team is starting to feel like servitude.
Deflated Jane asks me what I think of servant leadership in one of our executive coaching sessions.
I’m a fan of servant leadership. I even drew on the idea in my PhD. The term was coined back in 1970’s by Robert Greenleaf who wrote The Servant as Leader.
The idea is for you, as leader, to see your role as helping your team members meet their needs to grow, develop and prosper within the boundaries of their own limitations and abilities.
That’s all very nice. It is way better than ‘Command and control’. The ‘I’m the boss and you exist to do my bidding’ autocratic approach. But that’s not all there is to servant leadership in the workplace.
Where servant leadership is often misunderstood
The important piece for business, and what’s easily forgotten, is that it needs to be limited by organisational opportunities and requirements.
You’re at work to do a job and the job must be done. Not everyone will get what they want, in the way that they want it. So, with the end goal of what must be done in mind, servant leadership is not being nice for it’s own sake.
Servant leadership is doing what you can to provide an environment where individuals can grow, develop and prosper while meeting organisational goals.
It means there will be limits. Not everything you do will be popular. What the organisation needs and what individuals want won’t always align. And the organisation must win. Otherwise you end up a slave to servant leadership. And out of business.
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash