Lately, I’ve seen servant leadership in action in companies we work with which has led me to reflect on the incompatibility people may see between being of service and leading. In reality, these two can live together very well. As a matter of fact, they may be one of the best cohabitants in service of business performance. If the past few months have shown us anything, it is that businesses have the ability to step up in response to a crisis, serving all stakeholders of the business and in the community.
A few words on what being a servant leader implies:
- having a good knowledge of oneself (strengths, limitations, etc.…);
- listening to people, addressing their concerns by being in their world without judgment;
- making sure they are in a position to deliver at their best, because they have been asked questions as to what they need to grow and perform, and been listened to thoroughly, to build the conditions for success;
- providing clear goals and strategies as to business performance;
- anticipating situations to figure out the next step in case of failure;
- having people participate in the creative process, the decision-making process, supporting their development and making sure they are in the right place to outperform;
- being able to coach when needed and to mentor when needed.
All this is accomplished through, repeated, honest, concerted, and transparent communication – listening and speaking. The same applies to decision-making.
Yes, servant leaders make decisions, some of them being concerted ones and most of the time, solution-oriented decisions, encompassing all stakeholders (customers, suppliers, employees…) and business performance. They also celebrate wins and even small victories.
Where the shoe pinches is that people sometimes misunderstand the coexistence of two notions that have been built up as opponents; to the contrary, one empowers the other. Indeed, being of service and putting it at the disposal of business performance with a clear intention, empowers people, boosts accomplishments, facilitate communication, decisions and realizations. It has even been observed that experiencing servant leadership in tough times (when one would expect leaders to take unilateral, tough and disempowering decisions), achieved results beyond expectations.
The servant leader offers a new paradigm for leadership that may hold promising business results.