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10 Steps to Become a Servant Leader

by Melissa Maldonado, Director of Customer Support

The term “servant leadership” was first coined in an essay written by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. Later he expanded the essay into a book, which became one of the most influential leadership texts ever written. Greenleaf spent his entire 40-year working career at AT&T, researching management, development and education. His research led him to believe that the traditional, power-centered, authoritarian leadership style so prominent in U.S. institutions wasn’t working.

Greenleaf’s philosophy:

“The servant-leader is servant first… Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first… The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

It’s important to understand that “servant leadership” doesn’t literally mean “servant.” Servant leaders don’t fetch coffee and wait on their employees. Rather, the desire to serve is a genuine desire to help others. It’s a leadership style that serves the group interests first, and the leaders’ interest second.

This is a different paradigm than a traditional hierarchy based on coercive power and control. The leader of the group becomes a mentor, administrator and facilitator for the group, instead of a policy maker or disciplinarian.

If you’re interested in seeing if servant leadership can make a difference in your organization, there are steps you can try today. These steps were developed by the Servant Leadership Institute. They may seem elementary, but doing these things daily will begin to change your culture and make your team sit up and take notice.

As a leader, follow these steps and see if you notice changes for the better. If you’re not yet a manager or a leader, you can still follow these guidelines and see if it changes others’ perceptions of you. Most notably, if you act like a leader, you will be perceived as a leader.

1 Every day, get out of your office. Intentionally spend time each day connecting with your employees or team.

2. Every day, make eye contact and greet people in your workplace, even if you don’t know them.

3. Every day, find a way to say “thank you” to someone for the way they are serving either you, your company or team.

4. If you have a team, set up one-on-one meetings with every person on that team. This time should be used to get to know one another, and not be focused on specific work tasks. One idea is to take your team out to lunch once a week, and specifically avoid talking about work.

5. Every day, avoid gossip and stop it when you can.

6. Approach every day asking how you can add value. Avoid asking yourself how you can ‘win’ the situation.

7. Use every opportunity you have to explain the larger meaning of what you are asking people to do. It’s important that they understand the mission.

8. If you lead a team or assign work to others, look for opportunities to delegate. It’s a great way to show people that you trust them and you want to help them grow.

9. Be on time to meetings. This shows people that you value their time.

10. Do what you say you’re going to do .

Servant leadership has been proven to transform workplace cultures for the better, but it doesn’t happen overnight. While you develop and nurture the necessary qualities and traits to become a servant leader, take these small steps to affect immediate change.

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