The Power Of Leadership: Are You Actually A Servant Leader?

Lecturing as a Servant Leader to My Organization

Give Me The Fish: As you cast off the average and climb the ranks of the company you work for, or build the company you own. You will quickly find yourslef leading others and having the opprtunity to educate those around you. It’s essential to learn the importance of being a Servant Leader to continue growing yourself and the organzation around you.

“What is a Servant Leader?” the Officer asked. He was teaching a class on leadership at the Marine Corps’ premier six-month-long leadership school called, The Basic School. And, he was trying to get the Marines to pay attention to his lesson. A lesson that what would one day be a pillar in how they carried out their lives.

Hopefully, before they would one day lead men and women into harm’s way.

The Marines were of course only partially paying attention. They were mostly thinking about how little sleep they had. Having wrapped up a late-night field exercise only a few hours earlier, myself included.

A few moments later a Marine raises his hand and rattles off the textbook answer. Something about “serving to serve” and the “practice of servant leadership in traditional leadership roles”.

The Captain nods in acknowledgment and then continues, “You are to lead the finest fighting force on the planet. They don’t NEED you to tell them how to do their jobs, they NEED you to help them DO their jobs. This is why you need to be a Servant Leader.”

The lecture continued on, but what was said that day didn’t actually hit home until a year or so later. The moment I was standing in front of my first Platoon a year or so later.

Servant Leadership Means Admitting You Don’t Know Best

It’s hard to understand this concept when you are surrounded by people that generally don’t know what the hell is going on. This is especially true in a classroom setting full of Alpha types who always know best (Or, at least they think so).

But, the second you uncomfortably step in front of a bunch of Marines ranging from 18-36 years old, who have spent their whole adult lives focusing on being better at their specific job, you start thinking, “maybe these guys know a thing or two more than me”.

One would hope this thought would be commonplace. Because, this is not a unique Marine Corps thing. But, it’s not.

People know what the idea of servant leadership is.  It’s not uncommon to hear lectures on the developing of “wiser, freer, and more autonomous” employees.  Or to hear about how the served grow as people when allowed to flourish under servant leadership. And hear the espousing of the merits of putting their people first. But in reality, it’s just talking and it’s rarely actually put into practice.

Yes, it’s making sure your people have their basic needs met, whether it’s in the military and ensuring your people eat first. Or in the corporate world, making sure you as the servant-leader share all of the nice office amenities with your employees. But, it’s also way more.

There Is No Room For Posers

It’s almost comical to see someone claim to be a servant leader one minute, and the next, seeing them order people around without a second thought as to what those same people have to offer.

Almost comical, but in reality, it’s depressing.

They have missed the whole “SERVE” part. It’s not really their fault; it’s a cultural thing. People have this idea of Hollywood leadership. They have it ingrained that whoever is in charge has to have an Alpha male attitude. And that the leader must always seems to have the answers.

And while those in charge will always appear to hold an unusual power of foresight and answers, it’s only because they get information from the whole organization. By design, they are not siloed into their own specific area, allowing them to understand the broader picture.

The failure of the leader is when they use their privileged position in the to make decisions on their own.

Yes, the information got passed up to them, but it’s the place of the leader to then pass that information back down.

This up and down communication is essential to being a Servant Leader.

Servant Leadership is a Culture Shift

As a servant leader, it’s not your place to demand others to do what you think needs done. It’s your job to ensure  that those under you demand what they need from you.

If you do it right, the hardest part is convincing those people to ask for what they need and not the other way around.

I have led organizations ranging from 3 to 150 people and the hardest part of leading has been changing the culture to allow this leadership style to actually work.

People are so used to being told what to do, they forget to think for themselves. It’s the job of the leader to re-train and re-educate people to think on their own. To teach them, that it is better to be grabbed by the collar, rather then being kicked forward.

You must demand your people to tell you what they are doing and not ask you for direction.

And, at the same time, you must learn to accept that just because their way is different than how you would do it, doesn’t make it wrong.

It’s Not Easy

Servant Leadership is hard.  Not only for the leader. But, for everyone else.

People develop and perform at the level required for this type of culture only when they are forced to do so. You have to become the bad guy in your commitment to growth.

Along with that, most of us, myself included got to the positions we’re in by being comfortable in command. We tend to believe we perform as highly or better than those around us. This makes us assume we have the best way to accomplish the task at hand.

But, in reality, it’s not the case.

It’s our job, to guide, shape, and teach those that work for us. Not to be dictators and be the end-all-be-all.

Those around us know their jobs. They know what they’re doing. And, often have great solutions to complex problems.

If you do it right, those at every level of the organization will naturally feel and act the same way. The feeling of confidence and abillity to make their own decsions without threat from above.

Take The Inititive and Make The Change For the Better

As you step into your job today or tomorrow, remember to ask those under you what their plan is. Ask them what they need from you, and try not to give them direction, only guidance (preferably in the shape of a question).

For those of you that are not in charge, remember to tell your boss what the plan is. Don’t wait for him to give you one (just don’t forget to be tactful). More likely than not, if he’s good at what he does, he will appreciate the initiative. If you do it well enough, he might even slowly learn to let you take control.

Servant Leader focuses on giving others their independence. The freedom gained, enables people to do what they know is right and necessary to get the job done. The leader doesn’t always have the answers, but it’s likely that someone in their organization does.

Give people what they need to succeed by serving them. Learn to let go of the reins and let others drive.

This shift will not be easy. And in practice, it’s far more intellectually challenging than any other way of leading. But, the servant leader understands that the benefits are well worth it. Culture change is a two-way street and that’s exactly what Servant Leadership is, a culture shift for the better.

If You want to read more on servant leadership I strongly encourage you to look up Simon Sinek or check out his book, “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t“.