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Qualities of a Servant Leader

by | Service

“Servant leader”: The phrase might seem like an oxymoron at first glance, but it is an extraordinary style of leadership that defies many of the traditional leadership styles of decades past. In many old corporations, the leader was the boss and was not to be questioned. He or she was the head of every table and the end-all authority, even if he or she was wrong. Control was the currency, and the leader was not letting go of it.

Many leaders in the world still adhere to this ideology, but with less and less success as employees don’t put up with it and look to be led by others. In fact, one of the biggest reasons why people leave their jobs is because of management. Here are five principles of servant leadership. 

Don’t Be Right, Do Right 

Pride is the universal plague of humanity, and many negative leadership traits are a direct result of it. The constant need to be right overcomes to need to do right. Jim Puryear teaches this principle by saying:  

“The overwhelming vast majority of us want to be right…we want to beat other people over the head with our rightness, instead of humbling ourselves and letting them hear our heart and where were we are coming from so we can serve them…that’s what servant leadership is. It is doing the right thing.” 

When you are faced with a tough situation, this is a great thought to keep in mind. What is the right thing to do? Be brave enough to do the right thing, even when it isn’t the popular thing.  

Build People Up 

Organizations are made of people, not products. No matter what business you are in when you take care of your people, your people will take care of you and your business. Look to build those you lead through your words and actions. One terrific way to do this is through words of encouragement and honest feedback. Recognize excellent work and praise it, not only to that person but to the organization. Let those you work with know you appreciate them.  

Similarly, give criticism as needed. Criticism should be direct and constructive. Don’t let it become a personal attack by bringing in unrelated personal issues. Make sure that after you say your piece, you give them time to respond in turn. Once the direction to move forward is clear, give them more positive feedback and let them know that you are happy to be working with them.  

Recognize Need 

There is a difference between needs and feelings. Most children feel like they don’t want to eat their vegetables, while all parents know that their children need vegetables. Servant leaders recognize wants versus needs in their team and help them do the same. Work to cater to the deeper needs of your team, like unity, work habits, and resource availability.  

In the workplace, this could look like your team members feeling like no one likes them. Maybe they feel out of place and just want to quit. What they need is unity with their teammates. Fill this need through team-building activities and team huddles where you talk about the wins of everyone. Encourage the downcast team members to seek connection with their coworkers during lunch and through projects. This will empower them to get out of their comfort zone and know their coworkers better.  

Lead by Example 

Bobbie Puryear teaches, “Servant leaders transform their organizations into something successful and incredible by inspiring their leaders to excel.” 

When speaking of Jim’s parents, Ron and Georgia Lee, and their servant leadership style, she said, “They knew they didn’t need another personal asset. They needed to inspire their leaders who were their truest assets.” 

Servant leaders do not look to put themselves above their team. They are part of the crew and look to inspire their team to rise even higher than themselves.  

Never Stop Serving 

Jim Puryear said, “Get your eyes off yourself and get them on other people. Serve! This world is dying for help.” This is the purest intention behind the servant leader. They serve others around them before thinking about themselves. 

Holding the door when going to a lunch meeting, giving up your time to help others through the lows of life… these are marks of a leader who cares more for those they serve than themselves.

It’s clear that servant leadership is a sacrifice. Servant leadership can take practice to implement, especially if it isn’t your normal leadership style. As with most sacrifices, however, the reward is great. Be brave and make the change.

Need more ideas for serving others? Read our blog post on serving others when you can’t find the time.

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