Special Tip: A Holiday Gift - Servant Leadership

Posted on: December 20, 2017
Tags: Tips for effective boards

As a special holiday gift, I would like to share some information about a powerful and inspiring concept that I have become immersed in over the last several months.  It’s the concept of Servant Leadership, an intentionally odd and somewhat jarring title since we generally don’t see leadership and servanthood as being linked.

On its website, the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership describes Servant Leadership as “a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.”  (www.greenleaf.org

We may tend to see effective leaders as those who exert power over others and get others to carry out their dictates.  Servant leadership, on the other hand, is grounded in putting others first and seeing one’s leadership as a calling to serve those who are being led.  For example, a supervisor that embraces servant leadership does not so much strive to tell others what to do and make sure they do it but assumes the posture of a coach who supports and guides others to achievement.  The successful supervisor is one whose supervisees are successful in their jobs.  A servant leadership employer genuinely cares about meeting the needs of customers and employees.  Making an immediate sale to customers is less important than having a truly satisfied customer and having empowered satisfied employees is more important than forcing compliance.  Servant leadership is embraced because it is seen as the ethical and right thing to do but it is also recognized that it is good for business.

This morning, I planned to work on something else, but the spirit of the holidays inspired me to share this message with you.  Servant Leadership is not a religious concept but it can certainly be appreciated as consistent with messages from our religions that inspire us to be compassionate and focused on the well-being of others.  As I became familiar with Servant Leadership, I saw it as articulating a leadership philosophy and style that I think I tended to gravitate to and tried to follow as a manager and organizational leader in my earlier career.  I wish I had been exposed to the writings of Robert Greenleaf (the originator of the concept) and other Servant Leadership experts earlier in my career.  I think I would have found this constellation of values and ideals confirming of my inclinations and I think its challenging and practical guidance could have made me a better manager and organizational leader.

Servant Leadership can be an important complement to effective accountable board governance in general or Policy Governance® specifically.  It provides an inspirational and challenging “service to others” orientation that boards can embrace and operationalize through their governance systems.  And, Robert Greenleaf has written about the critical role of boards in guiding our institutions in caring for others and creating a better society.  But of course, the applicability of Servant Leadership is much broader than board governance and extends to leaderships roles throughout organizations and in one’s personal life as well.  Servant Leadership encourages us to serve as compassionate leaders wherever we can in our own corners of the world.

Servant Leadership has been widely acclaimed by leadership experts such as Warren Bennis, Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Peter Senge and others.

In this short message, I can’t do justice to Servant Leadership.  If you have not heard of Servant Leadership, I encourage you to google “Servant Leadership,” “Robert Greenleaf,” or the “Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.”  You can also check out my workshop for boards entitled “Governing as Serving:  The Effective Caring Board” at www.BoardsOnCourse.com/services/workshops-for-all-boards-4/.

Best wishes for a very happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year!

Policy Governance® is the registered service mark of Dr. John Carver. Registration is only to ensure accurate description of the model rather than for financial gain. The model is available free to all with no royalties or license fees for its use. The authoritative website for Policy Governance is www.carvergovernance.com.