Servant Leadership: Valuing People

Like many of you, I’ve had the “pleasure” of working for a boss or executive who seemed to enjoy reminding me how “in charge” they were. Like many of you, I didn’t enjoy it.

On the other hand, servant leadership places enormous value on people and their inherent humanity. Servant leaders seek to foster collaboration, understanding, mutual respect (crazy, I know), and wholeness, both within themselves and others.

There’s a certain moral center to servant leadership, as was mentioned in an essay by Dr. John Horsman that I read recently. A brief excerpt that I found especially poignant follows:

The moral-relational focus of Servant-leadership ensures the focus is on the development of self and others for the purpose of creating mature, responsible individuals, groups, organizations and a more caring productive society. All of this requires profound respect for all sentient beings. 

In other words, leaders who are ego-maniacs need not apply. This sort of human leadership is critical, as it is almost antithetical to much of what passes as leadership within the corporate arena today (raise your hand if you’ve been on the receiving end of a condescending, angry, or vindictive manager’s rant). In some sense it may be the antidote to much of the dysfunction prevalent within so many teams and organizations.

It sounds terribly cliche to say, but the degree to which people feel valued and appreciated, and the degree to which the environment within organizations encourages people to be appropriately human, hinges on how the people within those organizations lead. Servant leaders are not only working to become the humans they’re supposed to be themselves, but they’re also very involved with and passionate about serving others in such a way that it encourages them to do the same thing–continue on their own journeys to become who they’re meant to be and in turn helping others do the same. Done well, organizations become communities of servant leaders, serving each other in appropriate ways and leading well.

As I was thinking through these things, a couple different questions came to mind. Within the scope of what we call “leadership development” within organizations, how can we encourage people not only to improve on the more functional aspects of leadership, but also the more “human” aspects found within the servant-leadership philosophy? How do you see leadership development evolving from simply teaching people how to better manage their time and projects, to something more meaningful?

Is there a particular scenario or leader from your own experience that seemed or seems to exemplify servant leadership well? Can you think of a particular experience within which there was, in a sense, a community of servant leaders working well together to push an organization forward?

6 thoughts on “Servant Leadership: Valuing People

  • I believe it all depends on the style or definition your organization embraces. Anyone can talk about it, but what do your leaders example demonstrate? To me leadership development is found in the everyday activities of what is deemed acceptable, or not acceptable within any organization from the top down. Typically this will have a greater impact than any leadership development program.

  • Raising hand.

    The best I ever worked for were people who valued your opinion and cared about what is going on in your life. We didn’t socialize outside of the office–and shouldn’t–but we could have conversations about things outside of work (but not politics or religon).

    And number one, these people had the same character, same opinions, same demeanor around the higher pay grades as the lower pay grades. No two faceness. You enjoyed working for them.

    Number two. They encouraged you. Supported you. Were your cheerleader when it mattered. And when you made a mistake it was considered a true ‘learning oppportunity’.

    If you sat in a room with your “leaders” and asked them personal questions about their staff, would they know the answer–like what college their kids are attending, or what their favority sports team is, are their parents still living?

    I came into an position that had been open for a bit and after six months knew a lot about my staff. I was having a conversation with my boss (who had managed them for TWO YEARS) didn’t know any of the stuff I knew. Because he didn’t manage that way (and I hesitate to say, she didn’t care).

  • Simply put; a great leader is one that is confident and has confidence in his people. Those people will succeed, for many reasons, but the greatest being to keep the leader’s confidence in you. I have had such a leader, and his leadership was key to the most successful part of my career.

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