The Minimalist Leader: Servant Leadership

Source: David Spender on Flickr.

The human instinct is to gain power – and keep it. In the striving for power, and fighting to maintain it, leaders often forget what the main purpose of leadership is. Servant Leadership is the minimalist approach to leadership; the only guidelines are as follows:

Leadership isn’t about gaining and holding power, except as it helps the people who follow them.

The only thing that separates the servant leader from a follower is that concept. The leader leads, and the follower follows – pretty much everyone does both, in varying levels at some point in their life, and the prevailing principle is that:

1. The leader has a goal that is common to the followers: He has either already achieved that goal, or is further along the path than the rest.
2. The followers follow because the leader is able to help them achieve the goal that they share: Once this is realized as the primary purpose of leadership, it becomes easier to understand why the characteristics of Servant Leadership are so effective.

5 Attributes of Servant Leadership

Source: David Spender on Flickr.

King Arthur’s Round Table: A Great Example of Servant Leadership. Source: David Spender on Flickr.

The 5 main attributes of servant leadership are:

1. Selflessness: The primary goal is to serve others first. The moment the servant leader serves themselves first, they are operating under a different code that falls far outside of the principles of Servant Leadership.
2. Effective Listening: Every type of leader knows that listening is important, but the way they listen is what distinguishes servant leadership from other styles. They listen with the goal of a servant: to help, assist, and actualize. When servant leaders listen, they hear problems that they want to help the people solve, and once that problem or issue is defined, they set out to help resolve it.
3. Strong Communication: Because the servant leader’s goal is not to promote their own selfish agenda, the natural response to their communication is favorable and effective. When they communicate, they reveal their empathy for their followers, and keep their focus on developing their ability to achieve their goals.
4. Ability to Encourage: An effective servant leader understands the power of motivation and morale. In the helping and development of their followers, they allocate time to encouraging the people in their activity, ensuring they stay far from discouragement, which is one of the primary inhibitors of productivity.
5. Accountability: The goals of these leaders are to encourage, promote, develop, build up the skills of their followers, so there is shifting of blame or responsibility to save face. They are able to take full accountability for their actions and the actions of the team.

Each of the leadership attributes above are vital to this style of leadership, and the merging of the 5 characteristics help answer the question, “What is servant leadership?”

But how does Servant Leadership tie into the more heavily researched leadership styles mentioned in the overview? Does Servant Leadership fit into the modern styles of leadership?

Servant Leadership in the Modern World

Although it can be easy for many to assume that Servant Leadership is the only style of leadership that should be pursued, the fact is:

Every modern style of leadership can be conducted under the overall principles of Servant Leadership. It has more to do with the mindset of the leader than anything.

If a leader puts his or her own agenda ahead of the followers, the mindset is not that of a servant leader. If the main focus is putting the group/team first – that is servant leadership. When a leader operates without the above characteristics, they are pursuing an agenda entirely separate from the goal of the servant leader.

So the transactional leader is just as able as the transformational leader to operate in servant leadership, and the autocratic as much as the participative, and the laissez faire as much as the others.

The determining factor is the leader’s prevailing mindset in response to the following question:

“Is my focus on helping myself, or others?”

The key word in the question above is focus. The question is not “Am I helping my self, or others?” because there is relationship between the servant leader and his or her followers, and the most important factor of a relationship is that it is mutually beneficial.

So one point I want to make sure I don’t leave out is that the servant leader typically receives a benefit equal to our greater than what he or she gives, despite of (and because of) their selfless mindset. The received benefits vary, and often include personal fulfillment, recognition, achievement of personal goals (usually as they line up with their follower’s goals), and many others.

The goal of the Servant Leader is highly minimalistic: To help others achieve their full potential.

Although Servant Leadership is a relatively underrated style of leadership, I believe that it’s by far the best, and really is the only true form of leadership – everything else is just management.