The term servant leader has been around for a little more than 40 years although that the concept has been with at least since Christ washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. The concept of servant leadership is poorly understood.The term sounds contradictory.
People think of servants are subservient individuals placed in a weak economic, political and social position. Restaurant waiters are servants. Many diners treat waiters as servants and a tip is often based on the waiter’s responsiveness (or submissiveness).
Leaders are supposed to be anything but submissive. However, we all know that the idea of the leader as servant of the people is so appealing that even the most unresponsive, despotic, corrupt and ineffective rulers fancy themselves as “servants of the people.” Such leaders probably neither understand nor appreciate why Robert K. Greenleaf placed the word leader after the word servant.
The Inc. article Servant First, Leader Second by Brent Gleeson provides an explanation. Gleeson’s article explains how Navy Seals are trained in the four principles of servant leadership. Some will be skeptical. Servant leadership sounds like a soft skill. Soft skills might work in the church, the community service group or maybe the board room. Would soft skills work hierarchical institution like the military? Can such skills be applied by the special forces unit known as THE MEN WHO GOT BIN LADEN?
However, as Gleeson outlines the four tenants of servant leadership it becomes clear that all effective leaders need soft skills.
Servant leaders do the following::
Stop talking and listen.
Be a true steward to your team.
A leader who listens to the members of his or her team gains valuable insight into the problems and challenges. Team members will feel empowered if they believe the leader value their insights. Awareness allows a leader to spot hidden dangers and traps. An aware leader will respond to team members individual needs. Conceptualization means that leaders are prepared to employ unique and novel ideas to problems. Stewardship requires the leader to be the hardest worker, most prepared and the member with the highest level of ethics. Gleason writes that Seals are trained to lead and follow because being a servant leader is not something that comes naturally to all people in leadership positions, and every member of the team might need to assume a leading role.