Tag Archives: Servant Leadership

Leadership & Creating an Environment of Service

Servamt Leadership 2 No_optA lot has been said about the leader as “servant”. I expect, given that it is a relatively young term (having been ‘born’ in 1970), it is also subject to wide interpretation. As such, while some people will experience great results from their efforts to serve, others will consider it a fad that will go away if they ignore it. Still others will make every effort to embrace the notion of the Servant Leader but find themselves exhausted, confused and possibly resentful because people seem to be walking all over them.

So what to do?

Well, first I’m thinking that we need some clarity about what it means to serve or be a servant. So I looked it up in a number of dictionaries and found this:

“Servant leaders are humble stewards of their organizations’ resources.”

A Servant is one who serves another, providing help in some manner.”

“A servant is a person who performs duties for others”.

So far so good.

Then I went to the Thesaurus for some synonyms for the word servant. Between the words attendant and steward lay these words, lackey, flunky, minion and drudge.  Okay then, herein may lie a problem.

Perhaps it is that many of us, when we think of the term Servant Leadership, take this subservient perspective (a.k.a. lackey, flunky, minion and drudge). In other words, it suggests that by serving, we are also submitting to the whims of others for no other reason than to render them superior. And, let’s face it, our egos are going to have a hard time with that. So, if you have been leaning in that direction when you think about the notion of Servant Leadership, I have some good news for you. I don’t think it’s about that at all.

Here’s what I do believe it’s about. It’s about…

knowing the Over-arching purpose I believe a good servant leader will focus on an over-arching purpose. This purpose becomes the master and the guide for all activities undertaken within the framework of the company. The leader serves the purpose through people. For instance, Southwest airlines’ over-arching purpose is stated as: “To provide the best service and lowest fares to the short haul, frequent-flying, point-to-point, non-interlining traveler.” This simple statement lets everyone know why Southwest Airlines is in business and whom it is there to serve.

However, in order to succeed, this understanding of service must permeate the organization and so it also becomes the role of the leader to:

Serve the people who are working to fulfill the over-arching purpose. This means providing the resources needed for people to do their jobs well and happily. It includes delivering needed training, supplies, connections, information, accommodation, direction and anything else that allows people working in the company to move the organization closer to the achievement of its purpose.

Encourage and develop an environment where people serve each other.  Where we can go wrong with this servant leadership thing is that we fail to expect all people working in the organization to serve too. Or, we simply don’t convey it very well.

Those who believe servant leadership to be a role only for the designated leader would be wrong. In truth, an environment that embraces service will do so in an all-encompassing way. This means that regardless of title or position, each person will both lead and serve another, or a group of others, to achieve company goals and make a contribution to the achievement of its purpose.

So, having said all that, what does it actually take to create this environment where service is king? Well, for what it’s worth, this is what I think about that.

It takes Discipline: Staying focused on the over-arching purpose and using it, as a guide for providing service to others is not easy. As humans, we can become easily distracted. It may be easy to stay the course and remain true to the purpose when times are good. But, when they are not so good, it becomes tempting to stray and do what is expedient instead.

It takes Humility: Putting others before ourselves is sometimes a challenge, especially in business, but humility is an essential ingredient in a successful service environment. I’m not talking about being obsequious here. I’m talking about simply being unselfish and mindful of others’ needs and contributions.

It takes Collaboration: Simply put, in order to serve the purpose and each other, we have to learn to work together, avoid internal politics and protectionism and share our ideas and resources with each other more freely.

It takes Trust: Trust is often an earned thing. However, a leader who serves the people will, in my view anyway, start from a platform of trust rather than skepticism. In my experience, people respond well to a leader who conveys faith in their intent. People who feel trusted are more likely to be willing to serve the over-arching purpose. Will you be disappointed? Yep, from time to time you will. But, if you start out not trusting my hunch is you’re going to be disappointed anyway.

And:

It takes Faith: I’m not talking about the religious kind of faith here. I’m talking about the kind of faith that makes you believe so strongly in your company’s purpose and its people that all of your activities centre around them and the financial results that you realize from that come as a by-product of your collective effort.

So, is servant leadership for the faint of heart? I’d say no. Is it about subservience, or slavery? Certainly not.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*Note: this post was originally published in 2010.

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Filed under communication, Customer Service, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, organizational Development

A Leader?

Many years ago, I found this poem. It is one that impressed me and continues to speak to me now. To the best of my knowledge its author continues to be anonymous. Here it is. Enjoy

A Leader?

I went on a search to become a leader

I searched high and low. I spoke with authority, people listened but alas, there

Was one who was wiser than I and they followed him

I sought to inspire confidence but the crowd responded.

“Why should we trust you?”

I postured and I assumed the look of leadership with a countenance that glowed

with confidence and pride.

But many passed me by and never noticed my air of elegance.

I ran ahead of others, pointing the way to new heights.

I demonstrated that I knew the route to greatness.

And then I looked back and I was alone.

And I sat me down and I pondered long.

And then I listened to the voices around me.

And I heard what the group was trying to accomplish

I rolled up my sleeves and joined in the work.

As we worked, I asked,

“Are we all together in what we want to do and how to get the job done?”

And we thought together and we fought together

And we struggled towards our goal.

I found myself encouraging the fainthearted

I sought ideas of those too shy to speak out.

I taught those who had little skill.

I praised those who worked hard.

When our task was completed, one of the groups turned to me and said, “This would not have been done but for your leadership.”

At first, I said, “I didn’t lead, I just worked with the rest.”

And then I understood, leadership is not a goal.

It’s a way of reaching a goal.

I lead best when I help others to use themselves creatively.

I lead best when I forget about myself as leader and focus on my group, their needs and their goals.

To lead is to serve, to give, to achieve

TOGETHER.

leader

That’s what I think too.  What do you think?

6 Comments

Filed under Leadership

When Leaders Lose Sight of Their Primary Purpose

Lives are lost.  Trust is broken. Property is destroyed. And, the captain is forever tainted with the whiff of cowardice, no matter what the outcome of official investigations to come.  That’s the sad tale of the cruise ship, Costa Concordia.

And Why?  This is why…

The captain, the crew, and possibly even the cruise line, failed to keep focused on their primary purpose.

I see the primary purpose of the captain and crew of a commercial sailing vessel as ensuring the enjoyment and safety of the passengers.  Simply that.

The events that led up to the sinking of the Costa Concordia showed evidence that this purpose, (or facsimile thereof), was nowhere in sight as the Captain chose to sail too close to shore reportedly with the intent of ‘saluting’ a former colleague who lived on the Island.

The result, of course, was a hundred and sixty foot gash in the ship’s hull; a crew that failed to follow proper evacuation procedures; panic and chaos among the passengers; and a captain who appears to have chosen self- preservation over the honour of fulfilling his obligation to the passengers.

This is not the first time this has happened.  In 1991, the cruise ship Oceanos sank in heavy seas off the coast of South Africa.  A similar scenario played out then. This time, luckily, no one died. But, the Captain and crew abandoned ship before the passengers, leaving them to seek leadership from two of the ship’s entertainers who, by all accounts, acquitted themselves bravely staying until the last passenger was safely off the ship.

This is what one of them relates about his experience:

So what does this teach us?   To me, one thing it teaches is the importance of knowing, understanding and believing in a business or organization’s fundamental reason for being; being clear about what and who it is there to serve; and then focusing all activity on the fulfillment of that purpose.

I know, it sounds easier than it is but having a really strong feeling of purpose can make the difference between doing the right things and courting disaster.

Another thing that comes to mind for me is that while leadership is about going first, in some situations, it is also about going last.  In short, whether they are ships or businesses, when they fail, good leaders , stay until the end.

What do you think?

12 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Servant Leadership

Being of Service…or Doing a Favour?

 Seneca, the Roman philosopher once said, “Be silent as to services you have rendered, but speak of favours you have received”


It makes me think about what a fine distinction there is between being of service and doing a favour and how easy it is to confuse the two.

My husband is required to take blood thinners, nasty little toxic pills that must be constantly monitored to make sure they are doing their job…but without killing him in the process.  This means making frequent trips to the hospital for blood work.  On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like a big deal but because his stroke has made it difficult for him to get around, even the simplest things have become more onerous to accomplish than before.

On our last visit to the doctor, she made us aware of a service that would allow him to have his blood taken at home and asked if we would like her to arrange it.

“Yes, please!” we said.

A few weeks later, we received a telephone call from the Lab.  The conversation went something like this:

Lab Lady; “Hello, this the Lab calling to come and do your husband’s blood work.  We’ll be there tomorrow between 9:00 and 11:00.”

Me;  “ Thank you.  I’m checking my calendar now and, as it happens, we will be at home then.

Lab Lady;  “Good.  I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye”

The Lab technician was a perfectly pleasant woman (and probably a busy one as well) but I couldn’t help feeling annoyed somehow because she didn’t ask me if that particular ‘tomorrow’ or the time of the visit was in any way convenient for us.  And the tone of her voice was full of something that felt an awful lot like it might be coming from Lady Bountiful, like she was doing us a favour.

It could, of course, be that I was simply being over-sensitive but the experience left me wondering how many other organizations unwittingly dress their favours in the cloak of service.

To me, being of service is about others.  Doing a favour is about me.

As a leader I need to be clear about the difference in perspective each offers.   This kind of clarity is important because it affects how our employees, our customers, our colleagues and our communities respond to us.

If we are more inclined to doing favours (even if we call it service);

  • We will tend to view them as bankable transactions, keeping a mental record of how many and to whom;
  • We will have fairly specific expectations about the return for favours granted;
  • We will expect gratitude or even obligation. And, in so doing;
  • We will build on our personal sense of power.

If, on the other hand, we are truly service oriented we will use our organizational purpose as our guide.   In this way, we are better able;

  • To resist the temptation to make our acts of service feel like a burden to their recipients;
  • To give without considering the size or shape of the return;
  • To freely share our resources, our talents and our skills with each other and;
  • To count each act of service as a step closer to accomplishing our purpose, whatever it may be.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

6 Comments

Filed under building awareness, communication, Employee engagement, Servant Leadership, Uncategorized

Servant Leadership…Creating an Environment of Service


A lot is being said about the leader as “servant”.  I expect, given that it is a relatively young term (having been ‘born’ in 1970), it is also subject to wide interpretation.  As such, while some people will experience great results from their efforts to serve; others will consider it a fad that will go away if they ignore it; and still others will make every effort to embrace the notion of the Servant Leader but find themselves exhausted, confused and possibly resentful because people seem to be walking all over them.

So what to do?  Well, first I’m thinking that we need some clarity about what it means to serve or be a servant.  So I looked it up in a number of dictionaries and found:

Servant leaders are humble stewards of their organizations’ resources

A Servant is one who serves another, providing help in some manner

A servant is a person who performs duties for others.

So far so good.  Then I went to the Thesaurus for some synonyms for the word servant. Between the words attendant and steward lay these words, lackey, flunky, minion and drudge. Okay then, herein may lie a problem.

Perhaps it is that many of us, when we think of the term Servant Leadership, take this subservient perspective (a.k.a. lackey, flunky, minion and drudge).  In other words, it suggests that by serving, we are also submitting to the whims of others for no other reason than to render them superior. And, let’s face it; our egos are going to have a hard time with that.

So, if you have been leaning in that direction when you think about the notion of Servant Leadership I have some good news for you.  I don’t think it’s about that at all.  Here’s what I do believe it’s about.

It’s about…knowing the Over-arching purpose

I believe a good servant leader will focus on an over-arching purpose. This purpose becomes the master and the guide for all activities undertaken within the framework of the company. The leader serves the purpose through people. For instance, Southwest airlines’ over-arching purpose is stated as:

“To provide the best service and lowest fares to the short haul, frequent-flying, point-to-point, non-interlining traveler.”

This simple statement lets everyone know why Southwest Airlines is in business and whom it is there, ultimately, to serve.  However, in order to succeed, this understanding of service must permeate the organization and so it also becomes the role of the leader to:

Serve the people who are working to fulfill the over-arching purpose

This means that the leader works to provide the resources needed for people to do their jobs well and happily.  It includes providing needed training, supplies, connections, information, accommodation, direction and anything else that allows people working in the company to move the organization closer to the achievement of its purpose.

It also means…encouraging and developing an environment where people serve each other

Okay, so I think where we can go wrong with this servant leadership thing is that we fail to expect all people working in the organization to serve too.  Or, we simply don’t convey it very well.

Those who believe servant leadership to be a role only for the designated leader would be wrong. In truth, an environment that embraces service will do so in an all-encompassing way.  This means that regardless of title or position, each person will both lead and serve another, or a group of others, to achieve company goals and make a contribution to the achievement of its purpose.

So, having said all that, what does it actually take to create this environment where service is king?  Well, for what it’s worth, this is what I think about that.

It takes Discipline: Staying focused on the over-arching purpose and using it, as a guide for providing service to others is not easy.  As humans, we can become easily distracted.  It may be easy to stay the course and remain true to the purpose when times are good.  But, when they are not so good, it becomes tempting to stray and do what is expedient instead.

It takes Humility: Putting others before ourselves is sometimes a challenge, especially in business, but humility is an essential ingredient in a successful service environment.  I’m not talking about being obsequious here.  I’m talking about simply being unselfish and mindful of others’ needs and contributions.

It takes Collaboration: Simply put, in order to serve the purpose and each other, we have to learn to work together, avoid internal politics and protectionism and share our ideas and resources with each other more freely.

It takes Trust:  Trust is often an earned thing.  However, a leader who serves the people will, in my view anyway, start from a platform of trust rather than skepticism.  In my experience, people respond well to a leader who conveys faith in their intent. People who feel trusted are more likely to be willing to serve the over-arching purpose.  Will you be disappointed? Yep, from time to time you will. But, if you start out not trusting my hunch is you’re going to be disappointed anyway.

And:

It takes Faith: I’m not talking about the religious kind of faith here.  I’m talking about the kind of faith that makes you believe so strongly in your company’s purpose and its people that all of your activities centre around them and the financial results that you realize from that come as a by-product of your collective effort.

So, is servant leadership for the faint of heart?  I’d say no.  Is it about subservience, or slavery?  Certainly not.  What do you think? What rewards have you experienced from leading from the perspective of service?  What challenges have you faced? What would you add?


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Filed under Building Relationships, Employee engagement, Leadership Values