Lead By Serving
“Because I said so!”
“Do as I say, not as I do.”
“My way or the highway!”
Thankfully for all of us, the face of leadership is changing (or has changed). The aforementioned sayings represent some of what an older model of leadership looked like. Now, we are finding more than ever that effective leadership is less about wielding great authority and coercing people to act by instilling fear, and more about an ability to lead by serving and transforming the constituents you represent.
Who are the leaders we can point to in society? Here are a few examples:
· Elected officials
In each domain, we are noticing a change in the way leadership is effectively executed. Since we are in a performance realm, let’s use coaching as our basis for exploring leadership. Coaching, as defined by the International Coaching Federation, is “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” A key term to pull from that definition is “partnering.” Coaches – and other leaders – are no longer considered above and removed from those they lead but rather partners who help clients (athletes, performers, constituents) reach their potential. This harkens back to the very definition of a coach, which comes from the term stagecoach, which was a horse and wagon used to take people where they wanted to go. Leaders are no different. They have a responsibility to meet their teams where they are and take them where they want to head. This is a sublimation of the ego for a cause that is greater than oneself. This is, as Irv Yalom puts it in his classic book on counseling, becoming a ‘fellow traveler’ with those you lead.
While we recognize that partnering with those that ‘follow’ your leadership is one element of servant leadership, what are some other ways in which leaders powerfully inspire people. Here are a few:
· Listening: servant leaders are not only willing to listen but creatively seek out
information in their field in order to make sound decisions. In addition, they seek
the opinions and advice of those they lead in order to make decisions informed by
· Being humble: as mentioned, great servant leaders sublimate their ego for the good
of the group. They are willing to get their hands dirty and engage in roles that other
leaders may deem to be ‘beneath them.’
· Team-building: servant leaders seek to put great people around them and then do
their utmost to build those individuals up to the best of their ability. They trust and
value the people working alongside them
· Ask great questions: as with listening and seeking out information, servant leaders operate from a deep sense of inquiry and curiosity, assisting them in their authentic search for information
· Caring: a genuine and authentic care for those you lead is imperative. A lack of authenticity will be easily read and a lack of care will result in apathy towards your leadership.
· Willingness to act: leadership is about more than solely gathering opinions,
information and valuing the people around you. Leaders must be willing to make
decisions on behalf of the group – even if they are controversial or difficult!
· Proactive, not reactive: leaders don’t wait for challenges to arise, they keep an eye out for potential challenges and act before they become greater problems
· Modeling behavior: rather than telling constituents how to behave, servant leaders
model the behavior they hope to see in those they lead
Considering our current COVID-19 global pandemic and the way it is impacting our society, servant leaders who are willing to make hard decisions are in need now more than ever. A great example of this comes from San Francisco, where Mayor London Breed decided very early on in the crisis to take strict early measures in order to slow the spread of the virus in the Bay Area. This was very unpopular at the time but now as we look back – with cautious optimism – we can say that these measures had significant impact on how the virus has impacted this region. Mayor Breed sought out the best information from scientific and medical professionals in her network and was willing to make a difficult but courageous decision to effectively shut down the city of San Francisco before other cities in America followed suit. This sort of leadership is in stark contrast with other local officials around the country who dragged their feet in taking action.
Leadership today has changed from the authoritarian, dictatorial style of years past to a transformational, servant-style leadership emerging within the domains of business, politics, and sports. A servant leader is one who seeks out information, models the behaviors they want to see, listens to and trusts those they lead, and is humble in their approach to leadership. By empowering those they lead their leadership is not destroyed but rather propped up, as they are made stronger by those in their party. While doing so, they must still be willing to make challenging or unpopular decisions but do so with the knowledge and belief that their actions are in their team’s best interests. Consider what you can do to serve those you lead with humility and watch the buy-in and results improve!