Spears (1996) explains servant leadership as one which is based on teamwork and community; one which seeks to involve others in decision making; one which is strongly based in ethical and caring behavior; and one which is enhancing the growth of people, while at the same time improving the caring and quality of our many institutions. The term “servant-leadership” was first coined in the 1970 essay by Robert K. Greenleaf entitled, The Servant as Leader (Stone).
According to Dennis and Bocarnea (2005), “servant leaders are those who serve with a focus on the followers, whereby the followers are the primary concern and the organizational concerns are peripheral. The servant leader constructs are virtues, which are defined as the good moral quality in a person, or the general quality of goodness, or moral excellence”. This, I believe, is a very good description of servant leadership. What this says is that we must apply good moral qualities and think about the persons that we manage and the effects of our leadership on their well-being and productivity.
This statement alludes to the fact that the organization will be stronger if our followers are treated with respect. Servant leadership should be an integral part of every business and should be used to mold our leaders. Spears (1996) states that “the servant-leader is one who is a servant first. In The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf wrote: It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead”.
In a recent company for which I worked, servant leadership was not part of the management process and I believe that the company suffered from the lack of servant leadership guidance. For example, the director of the department under which I worked was very demanding. His words were harsh and direct, he never discussed what was happening, and he never conveyed his vision to his subordinates. Very often the director would mislead his subordinates with lies to hide what his intentions were until he was ready to implement his actions.
His staff quickly learned not to believe what he had to say until he actually did something. An example of this was when the company was being bought out by a larger company. Many people heard through contacts at the new company that the new company was going to move our department and reduce our headcount by forty percent. During one of our departmental meetings, the question was posed to the director. The director said that everything was just rumor and that nothing was going to change.
As you might guess, a few months later we were all brought into a meeting area and informed that twenty members of our staff had been let go and that it was a decision by the corporation to reduce the headcount to reduce costs. A few months later our department was relocated to another building. During our next department meeting, the question was posed to the director about the prior inquiry regarding the staff reduction and relocation. The director informed us that the decisions were corporate decisions and non-management personnel did not need to know about it as it would just reduce productivity as a result of the gossip.
In the case above, the director did not apply morality or servant leadership. The director’s leadership does not follow the leadership as stated by Maxwell and Elmore (2007), “God says that these shepherds are to lead his people with knowledge and understanding”. The director did not understand how his actions impacted his employees. His concerns were driven by the thought that the department would lose productivity if they knew what was going on. He felt that many would talk about the changes instead of work.
His lack of knowledge and understanding created discern among his staff and many were often talking about how they did not trust the director and contemplating what might happen. The number of conversations of what might happen was far more than the few conversations of what will happen. Another observation about the director would be his personality. His personality was not what I would observe as indicative of servant leadership. I believe that a good servant leader is an agreeable leader.
As stated by Washington, Sutton, and Field (2006), “an agreeable leader is described as a fundamentally altruistic individual who is sympathetic, generous, and eager to help others”. The director was harsh, stern, and direct. He didn’t think of how his words affected those with whom he was speaking. The director’s concern was not with the person, but with the company. He once told someone with carpal tunnel syndrome that they should work through the pain and that he didn’t think it was a right time for them to take time off for surgery to correct the condition.
The person with carpal tunnel syndrome was very upset and did work through the pain. On several occasions, the person asked to do something else that did not require a lot of typing and was told that they were needed where they were most proficient. I don’t think the director was very sympathetic to the person’s issues or concerns. “Agreeable individuals are motivated primarily by an altruistic orientation – that is, a concern-with-others’ interest and empathy for their condition. Such descriptions of agreeableness are akin to servant leadership’s hallmarks of stewardship, service, and the growth of followers” (Washington et al.
). I have found it difficult to draw a concise conclusion as to what servant leadership is, but I have made a few observations. I would have to agree with some of the statements by Russell and Stone (2002) that if servant leadership is different from other forms of leadership, then we should see a clear difference between leaders in the form of behaviors and other characteristics. The unfortunate part is that many of the literature are a potpourri of different concepts and styles that are believed to be the makeup of servant leadership and a lot of it is somewhat ambiguous and, in some cases, overlapping.
I have noticed that many of the journals that I have researched have their own idea of what servant leadership is and what defines a good servant leader. Many of the common and overlapping theories are about personality and empathy. For instance, Russell and Stone (2002) focuses on vision, communication, honesty and integrity, credibility, trust, competence, service, stewardship, modeling, visibility, pioneering, influence, persuasion, appreciation of others, listening, encouragement, teaching, and delegation.
These areas of management seem very important and appear to focus on areas that make a good servant leader. Where Dennis and Bocarnea (2005) focuses on agapao love (to love in a social or moral sense), humility, being altruistic, having vision, trust, serving, and empowerment of followers as the strengths of a good servant leader. These areas would also seem to be very important areas on which to focus and have a few common attributes with Russell and Stone. And lastly, Russell (2001) focuses on only on values as the essentials of a good servant leader.
On a personal level, Russell states, “Values significantly impact leadership. Personal values affect moral reasoning, behavior, and leadership style. The most critical values of good leaders are honesty and integrity”. Russell continues to comment about the importance of values on the organizational level. “The values of leaders ultimately permeate the organizations they lead. Leaders primarily shape the cultures of their organizations through modeling important values. Ultimately, values serve as the foundational essence of leadership” (Russell).
Now that I have an understanding of servant leadership I am compelled to apply that understanding to the leaders that I have observed in the past and attempt to understand why they failed to have loyal, hard-working employees. With that said, I now know that my director from my previous employer did not follow any attributes that would indicate a good servant leader. His actions were definitely not that of a servant leader and I believe that he had a huge failure when it came to motivating his employees. I further believe that if the director would follow the concepts of servant leadership, he would find great success in his organization.
I believe that not only should the individual managers apply the concepts of servant leadership, but the organization should adopt the theories as well. Sousa and Van Dierenconck (2010) defines servant leadership as, “a holistic approach to work; promoting a sense of community; and the sharing of power in decision making”. I also believe that the sharing of power provides a sense of community and that when the employees feel that they are a part of the solution then they will dig deeper to make the organization run more efficiently.
Sousa and Van Dierenconck also state that “the holistic approach to work might play a key role in fulfilling the need for work to have a purpose and to be intrinsically satisfying”. If the entire organization applies the theories of servant leadership, I believe that the organization would flourish, management would work much easier, and the employees would work harder and be much happier. I have a strong opinion regarding servant leadership. After reading the many research documents, I realized that my personality is inherently a servant leader.
Adopting the theories of servant leadership would be second-nature for me, but I could see where it could cause conflict for those who are not trusting. I am going to apply servant leadership to my professional career in all aspects. In my role as the follower, I will make attempts to educate my superiors on the benefits of servant leadership and try to include myself in the day to day operations. In my role as a supervisor, I will listen to the issues of my subordinates and put myself in their shoes before making any decisions.
I will trust each person until the trust is broken and treat everyone as a professional. I will show competence as a leader, communicate openly, be pure and honest, and provide a clear and concise vision of my goals. What I get out of my research is that there is no concrete definition of servant leadership, but an acceptance that it primarily involves good moral values, empathy towards those that are being led, trust in your employees, and a good vision of the future. These are all good attributes and, regardless of servant leadership, should be applied to all aspects of one’s life.