Servant leadership

The Earth is under threat from so many areas that it is difficult for me to be positive. The threats are too big and too numerous. Our physical resources are being drained, at an alarming rate. We have given our planet the disastrous gift of climate change. Rising temperatures, reduction of the polar ice caps, deforestation, and decimation of animal species. We can be an ignorant, unthinking lot.

World-renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking

In his address to the conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Caribbean, the Minister of Finance disclosed that Guyana’s first anti-money risk assessment has found the accountancy profession wanting in terms of assisting in the country’s anti-money laundering efforts. He referred to banks in the developed countries severing or reducing correspondent banking relationships in jurisdictions where money laundering risks are high, and called on the accountants to conduct appropriate due diligence of their clients. The New Zealand Government is in the process of amending its anti-money laundering legislation to make it a mandatory requirement for not only accountants but also lawyers, real estate agents, conveyances, the New Zealand Racing Board, and some high-value dealers, to report suspicious transactions to the relevant authorities. There is also a proposal to establish a Department of Internal Affairs as the supervisor for this purpose. This column believes that the time is ripe for Guyana to follow suit. We have noted the Attorney General expressing some thoughts on the matter in an exchange of correspondence with the Guyana Bar Association.

In two of our articles in May 2013, we had discussed three types of leadership styles, namely, transformational leadership, transactional leadership and narcissistic leadership. Transformational leadership is about people and relationships. It is characterized by certain traits: charisma, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, foresight, systems thinking, visioning and partnering. It is a leadership style that helps subordinates to rise to the highest level of their potential, and in some cases enables ordinary employees to achieve extraordinary feats.

Transactional leadership provides for followers to be motivated by the leader’s promises, praise and reward, based on what the leader and followers have “transacted” to do. Based on feedback, rewards are offered, or procedures are put in place for improved performance. In some cases, sanctions or threat thereof, are imposed. Transformational leadership and transactional leadership, however, do not operate in isolation. Rather they are complementary to each other. On the other hand, narcissistic leadership relates to personality traits that are characterized by egotism, vanity, pride and selfishness. While narcissism may be appropriate for organisations during extraordinary and difficult times, it can lead them into ruin because of the refusal to listen to advice and warnings from even trusted advisors.

Today, we discuss one other type of leadership that is linked to transformational leadership: servant leadership.

Servant leadership in perspective

Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enrich the lives of individuals, build better organizations and ultimately create a more just and caring world. According to the Center for Servant Leadership, it is a timeless concept that focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform to the best of their ability.

The term was coined by Robert Greenleaf in an essay first published in 1970 in which he asserted that “The servant-leader is servant first… It 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, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature…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 difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

In his second essay on the subject, Greenleaf went on to state, “This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”

Characteristics of a servant-leader

In an article entitled “Practicing Servant Leadership”, Larry Spears identifies ten characteristics of a servant-leader as follows:

  1. Listening: Leaders have traditionally been valued for their communication and decision-making skills. While these are also important skills for the servant-leader, they need to be reinforced by a deep commitment to listening intently to others. The servant-leader seeks to identify the will of a group and helps clarify that will. He or she seeks to listen receptively to what is being said. Listening, coupled with regular periods of reflection, is essential to the growth of the servant-leader.
  2. Empathy: The servant-leader strives to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirits. One assumes the good intentions of co-workers and does not reject them as people, even if one finds it necessary to refuse to accept their behaviour or performance.
  3. Healing: One of the great strengths of servant-leadership is the potential for healing one’s self and others. Many people have broken spirits and have suffered from a variety of emotional hurts. Although this is part of being human, servant-leaders recognize that they also have an opportunity to “help make whole” those with whom they come in contact. According to Greenleaf, “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if implicit in the compact between servant-leader and led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share.”
  4. Awareness: General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader. Awareness also aids one in understanding issues involving ethics and values. It lends itself to being able to view most situations from a more integrated, holistic position. As Greenleaf observed: “Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity.”
  5. Persuasion: Another characteristic of servant-leaders is a primary reliance on persuasion rather than positional authority in making decisions within an organization. The servant-leader seeks to convince others rather than coerce compliance. This particular element offers one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant-leadership. The servant-leader is effective at building consensus within groups.
  6. Conceptualization:  Servant-leaders seek to nurture their abilities to “dream great dreams.” The ability to look at a problem (or an organization) from a conceptualizing perspective, means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities. For many managers, this is a characteristic that requires discipline and practice. Servant-leaders are called to seek a delicate balance between conceptual thinking and a day-to-day focused approach.
  7. Foresight: Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future. It is also deeply rooted within the intuitive mind. Foresight remains a largely unexplored area in leadership studies, but one most deserving of careful attention.
  8. Stewardship:  Stewardship is defined as “holding something in trust for another.” Greenleaf’s view of all institutions is one in which CEOs, staffs, and trustees all play significant roles in holding their institutions in trust for the greater good of society. Servant-leadership, like stewardship, assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of others. It also emphasizes the use of openness and persuasion rather than control.
  9. Commitment to the growth of people: Servant-leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As a result, the servant-leader is deeply committed to the growth of each and every individual within the institution. The servant-leader recognizes the tremendous responsibility to do everything possible to nurture the growth of employees.
  10. Building community: The servant-leader senses that much has been lost in recent human history as a result of the shift from local communities to large institutions as the primary shaper of human lives. This awareness causes the servant-leader to seek to identify some means for building community among those who work within a given institution. Servant-leadership suggests that true community can be created among those who work in businesses and other institutions. As Greenleaf stated, “All that is needed to rebuild community as a viable life form for large numbers of people is for enough servant-leaders to show the way, not by mass movements, but by each servant-leader demonstrating his own unlimited liability for a quite specific community-related group.”

Next week, we will continue to explore the various leadership styles that have transformed organisations and entities, indeed whole countries, in a manner worthy of serious emulation.

 

 

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