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Leadership Development: Power in Servant Leader Concepts
The concept of servant leadership is very counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. We are conditioned by society and culture to do whatever it takes to succeed and get ahead. We can see examples of leaders looking out for number one in our history books, on the news, and in many of our movie choices.
The quest for power, authority, and success may be the way of the world, but it is not the only way. There’s a better way to lead. There’s a different idea and concept. One that calls the leader to serve the ones he leads. That’s the type of leader that I would want to follow. That’s the type of leader that I strive to become.
Much has been written about servant leadership. I have another Hub on the characteristics of a servant leader that I would recommend. Basically, however, a servant leader is one who leads with others in mind. He is not one who sacrifices others for his own gain. Instead, he will often sacrifice his own self for the greater good of the people, the organization, or the cause.
Understanding the concepts of servant leader is the first step toward becoming one. While I understand these concepts, I know that there is more to it. I must put the characteristics and principles into practice. All too often, however, the cultural ideals of success and power often taint my thoughts and motives.
Self-awareness is vital in any type of leadership. It is especially helpful, however, in servant leadership. It’s one thing for the cultural concepts of leadership to be present in my life and work, but becoming aware of its presence is vital to learning to combat those tendencies.
For example, a servant leader isn’t one to be concerned with the need for position or title. He is secure enough in his influence as a leader. I, however, have often spent a great deal of time and energy in an attempt to prove myself as one worthy of leadership and more responsibility. Insecure in my own influence, I tend to look to others for affirmation causing my pride to take quite a few knocks. Being aware of this tendency helps me to remember to keep my priorities in line. If I believe that the work is the greater good, then my title or position shouldn’t matter.
This is where the tension between the servant part of leadership meets the leadership. The motives of the servant leader must always be checked. Any time the servant leader begins to look toward his own gain or status, he ceases to be a servant leader. It’s not that he’s not concerned with leading, though. Instead, he leads with the best interest of others in mind.
This type of leadership actually lends more power to the servant leader than traditional leadership techniques. Because those who follow the servant leader know and trust that he has their best interest in mind they will follow him with more dedication. A traditional, positional, authoritarian leader may indeed gain some followers, but their commitment and buy-in will not be as great. The servant leader can better inspire those who follow to do greater things and therefore his power as a leader increases by default.
A good example of this contrast in leadership can be found in the movie 300. In this movie we can see two leaders fighting for a cause. One leader, King Xerxes, who had elevated himself to god-status is on a quest to gain more power and increase his kingdom. Against this self-promoting leader is Leonidas who is there to defend his people. In a confrontation between the two leaders, King Xerxes tells Leonidas that he would gladly kill half of his men to further his cause. “And I would gladly die for any one of mine,” replies Leonidas.
Which leader would inspire you? Which leader would cause you to put every effort into following him? While King Xerxes had many, many followers, they were mere pawns in his self-serving plans. Leonidas, have a much smaller following, but his men were able to accomplish great things because of their dedication and commitment to their leader.
In James Autry’s book, The Servant Leader, he gives lists six things that he believes about leadership. These first three deal with the concept of power vs. authority:
- Leadership is not about controlling people; it’s about caring for people and being a useful resource for people.
- Leadership is not about being boss; it’s about being present for people and building a community at work.
- Leadership is not about holding on to territory, it’s about letting go of ego, bringing your spirit to work, being your best and most authentic self.
How can I become a servant leader?
- Study up on the concepts and characteristics of servant leadership. Read books written by servant leaders such as Robert K. Greenleaf, James Autry, or John Maxwell. Their wisdom and experience will help you build your leadership skills.
- Take a close look at your own heart and motives. Why do you want to become a servant leader? Is it for more power and effectiveness? Or do you believe that becoming a servant leader is in the best interest of all involved? Think about each decision you make as a leader. Is this something that will benefit the people and the organization? Is this something that will only further your own cause and ambition?
- Take some time to learn from and listen to the people around you and under your influence. What ideas do they have? How can you motivate and inspire them? Instead of thinking how they can help you accomplish your goals, try working with them to help them accomplish theirs.
- Don’t put your efforts into getting ahead or receiving credit. Instead, focus on the work that needs to be done. Be willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Believe in your cause or organization enough that you can willingly sacrifice recognition.
- Build up other leaders. Don’t keep the power of leadership to yourself. Empower other and delegate responsibility. With traditional leadership, there is always a fear of being replaced. Release that fear and be willing to pass the baton on to someone else. If you believe in the cause you are leading, then empowering others will only multiply the effort. Click on "Building a Team of Leaders" for more information on creating an environment of leadership.
As you work on your own leadership development, I hope that you will consider the concepts of servant leadership. Learn to set aside pride and selfishness. Work toward putting others first in your life and in your work.
Read "Leadership Development: Becoming a Powerful Servant Leader" for more information on Servant Leadership.