What is Servant Leadership?
Servant leadership is defined as a leadership style (many would call it a leadership philosophy) that emphasizes the leader’s responsibility to the success of the organization as well as his or her moral responsibility to subordinates, customers, and other stakeholders. Although it may seem like a new leadership style is being introduced every month, servant leadership is still quite unique from other leadership styles such as transformational, sacrificial, authoritarian, and laissez-faire leadership. Servant leadership is best described in the short book by Max DePree, Leadership Is An Art.
How is Servant Leadership Unique?
Serving and developing others is the driving source of motivation for servant leaders: they strive for achievement so that they are in the best position to invest in their people and their organizations. They feel intrinsic satisfaction when their employees succeed, and as such they are regular champions of certain processes such as: employee training & development, performance management, and continuous process improvement (to the extent that CPI encourages a high degree of employee involvement). To make a comparison, servant leadership is at the opposite end of the spectrum from narcissistic leadership, and has some overlap with transformational leadership. Servant and transformational leadership lead to different outcomes and work better in different organizational contexts. For example, researchers have found that servant leadership promotes generativity, collaboration, and well-being, while transformational leadership promotes empowerment and ability to manage organizational change.
Servant leadership is characterized by seven dimensions
- Acting ethically
- Showing sensitivity to others’ personal concerns
- Putting subordinates first
- Helping subordinates grow and succeed
- Empowering others
- Creating value for the community
- Having the skills to effectively support and assist followers
Outcomes of Servant Leadership
A recent study looked at more than a hundred CEOs in technology organizations over multiple time periods. The results of this study are quite interesting:
- Firm performance (return on assets) was predicted by the degree of servant leadership exhibited by the CEO, in that servant CEOs had higher-performing organizations.
- There was a negative relationship between CEO narcissism and servant leadership. Narcissists were viewed as egotistical, manipulative, and exploitive in their interactions with others.
Are You a Servant Leader?
Servant leadership questionnaire items include the following items developed by Barbuto & Wheeler (2006). Someone is adopting a servant leadership approach to the extent that she/he characterizes the behaviors listed below. Behaviors are organized into five dimensions of servant leadership.
- This person puts my best interests ahead of his/her own.
- This person does everything he/she can to serve me.
- This person sacrifices his/her own interests to meet my needs.
- This person goes above and beyond the call of duty to meet my needs.
- This person is one I would turn to if I had a personal trauma.
- This person is good at helping me with my emotional issues.
- This person is talented at helping me to heal emotionally.
- This person is one that could help me mend my hard feelings.
- This person seems alert to what’s happening.
- This person is good at anticipating the consequences of decisions.
- This person has great awareness of what is going on.
- This person seems in touch with what’s happening.
- This person seems to know what is going to happen.
- This person offers compelling reasons to get me to do things.
- This person encourages me to dream “big dreams” about the organization.
- This person is very persuasive.
- This person is good at convincing me to do things.
- This person is gifted when it comes to persuading me.
- This person believes that the organization needs to play a moral role in society.
- This person believes that our organization needs to function as a community.
- This person sees the organization for its potential to contribute to society.
- This person encourages me to have a community spirit in the workplace.
- This person is preparing the organization to make a positive difference in the future.
How do you score yourself on servant leadership? Where were your greatest strengths?
Source: Barbuto, J. E., & Wheeler, D. W. (2006). Scale development and construct clarification of servant leadership. Group & Organization Management, 31, 300-326. doi:10.1177/1059601106287091
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