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Servant Leadership [Part One]

I was in a client meeting with Anne Miner this week and heard one of the client participants comment, “Now, that’s Servant Leadership at work!” Servant Leadership sounded like an oxymoron to me: servants serve, and leaders lead. How can those two activities coincide in one person?

After the meeting, I poked my head into Anne’s office and asked, “What is a Servant Leader?” As she so often does, Anne smiled and invited me to take a seat while she explained.

“The first time I heard the term, Servant Leader, I was confused,” she said. “so, of course, I did some research, and I was surprised to find that the term had been in use since the 70s!

Robert Greenleaf coined the terms Servant Leader and Servant Leadership in his 1970 essay, "The Servant as Leader."

According to Greenleaf, “The servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.

While traditional Leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” Servant Leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

“Can you give me an example?” I asked.

Anne nodded and continued, “Remember when I drew that upside-down pyramid on the board during our client meeting today? With the President and all the administrative support functions, finance, human resources, marketing, and IT at the bottom, and the customer-facing people at the top? That diagram illustrated the notion of Servant Leadership; the entire organization and everyone in it is supporting, or serving, the frontline team members who in turn serve the customers.

And, as a team, we demonstrated Servant Leadership when we agreed that the organization would support everyone in developing their highest and best contributions, through:

  • education and training,

  • provision of the best tools and technologies, and

  • empowerment of all employees to make the best decisions to serve our customers.

I don’t often call it Servant Leadership because of the confusion it can lead to, but there were people in the room who recognized it as you heard. And I hope you can see how we practice it here.”

Oh yes, I see now that Anne Miner is a Servant Leader herself, and she leads a team of Servant Leaders.

Are you a Servant Leader? Want to know how to become one? Watch for Part Two next week.

In the meantime, you can learn more by reading "The Power of Servant Leadership," by Robert K. Greenleaf.


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