Many people talk about leadership and what the best way is to lead. Leadership styles and approaches are the subject of many discussions, articles and journals. More recently, servant leadership has become a popular concept with the aim of encouraging more individuals to be servant leaders, but what does it mean to be a servant leader?
My first encounter with the concept was in 2010 when working with an organisation founded by Kurt Hahn. Kurt Hahn was a German educator and a key figure in the development of experiential education. He believed that the greatest thing one could learn and inspire in others, was compassion and that students should have practical opportunities to guide and support them to become compassionate leaders.
How is a servant leader different from any other leader? The confusion about what servant leadership is, can possibly be traced to one of its core differences compared to other leadership approaches. Whereas most approaches to leadership focus on what the leader does, servant leadership is focused on why they do it.
A servant leader is one whose convictions are rooted in personal responsibility, kindness and justice. Servant leaders are driven by a desire to be of service to others and to nurture, guide, develop and help others improve and succeed.
According to leadership guru Ken Blanchard, author of the book Servant Leadership in Action: How you can achieve great relationships and results, there are two aspects of servant leadership. The leadership aspect is about vision, direction, and goals and that’s the responsibility of the hierarchy. Then, once that’s done, now one moves to the servant part of servant leadership. And, philosophically, one has to turn that pyramid upside down and work for one’s people.
People living out a true spirit of servant leadership demonstrates personal literacy in understanding and employing both their own skills and abilities and those of their team to the greatest effect. Self-confidence, determination, motivation, intuitive decision-making, persuasion, negotiation and creative problem solving are all in evidence as is the ability to spot opportunities and take calculated risks, both for the leader and those that they lead.
Blanchard emphasises that the world is in need of better leadership role models and offers a critical reminder at a critical time that only by serving others will we ever truly accomplish great results.
As educators with the responsibility of empowering the future leaders, our challenge is to also inspire the true essence of being a servant leader.
By Tasnim Abed