There are two kinds of leaders – those who speak and those who do. I refer to those who speak as vocal leaders, and those who do as servant leaders. The concept of servant leadership controverts the hitherto pyramidal notion of leadership. A leader was thought to be that person at the top. Rather than being the one serving the people, he was the one being served by the people. Not anymore. Emerging leadership paradigm appears to be reversing the pyramidal leadership model in favour of the servant-leader. Little wonder President Umaru Yar Adua of blessed memory proclaimed his servant-leadership style at the on-set of his administration. It would have been interesting to see how this would have played out given that a servant-leader is frequently very difficult or impossible to find. But the cold wicked hands of death did not avail us Nigerians opportunity to witness Yar Adua’s servant-leadership in action.
Rising to a certain level of leadership in an organization often comes with a self-righteous attitude that beats to the tune of “I have people who can take care of that for me.” In many cases, that is a legitimate response—as one climbs the leadership ladder and assumes new responsibilities and challenges, one tends to do away with certain tasks that once occupied his time. He begins to delegate them. But over-delegation is dangerous. Once started, it becomes the norm, thus making the leader himself to become lazy and mentally inept. It also pollutes the leader’s image in the minds of his or her employees, as well as sets precedence for that type of behavior at all levels of the organization.
What is so often missing in a dynamic leadership setting is a leader who does extraordinary things. Leaders who do extraordinary things lead by example. They “walk the talk”. Those leaders believe in servant leadership and practice it daily, and they are the ones to whom their employees look up to, not out of fear or intimidation, but with respect and admiration. They are the leaders that people want to follow. They are the ones who take their organizations to great heights, where employees are so connected to the success of their organization that its goals become synonymous with their own.
Below is the set of steps that leaders could take to improve their servant leadership skills:
SATISFY EMPLOYEES’ NEEDS FIRST BEFORE YOURS
In reality, this is hardly the case, especially in the business world, which often values a hierarchal pecking order. Leaders should put employees’ needs before their own. Part of being a servant leader is a sacrifice. The team comes first, not your ego.
DO THE DIRTY WORK
Take care of the things that negate your employees’ ability to give their 100 percent effort. For example, money is often a leading cause of anxiety; therefore it will help if you can develop an employee assistance scheme to make it easier and faster for employees in need to borrow money. By removing the distraction caused by monetary hardship, employees can better remain focused on their work. They can spend their discretionary thinking on their organization and job performance as opposed to the troubles that await them when they get home. Can you imagine the frame of mind of a male employee who is not sure how his family will feed when he gets home? It is in light of this that most organizations set up a fund from which their employees can avail financial assistance in case of need.
Secondly, as a servant leader, sometimes you have to show that you are ready to roll up your sleeve and do the dirty work if the need arises. This has a way of inspiring your subordinates to do whatever it is that needs to be done to achieve the organizational goal.
SHOW THAT YOU CARE
Show, not tell, that you care for everyone in the organization, and that everyone is important and plays a vital role in achieving the organizational goal. You are not at the top just so you could tell others to get you coffee in the morning. Sometimes you should be the one who gives the coffee to others. Bottom-line is give carrot where you need to give carrot, but do not hesitate to apply stick where you need to apply the stick.
BE A GOOD LISTENER
Listen to suggestions from others, no matter their “rank” in the organization. No one knows it all, not even the leader himself. Everyone has something to learn from someone else. So as a servant leader, you will endear yourself to your team if you seek and listen to suggestions even from those below you. This gives your employees a feeling of participation in leadership, and also a feeling of being appreciated.
MAKE YOUR WORD YOUR BOND
At the core of every leadership position is trust in the person of the leader. Deliver what you promise, otherwise do not make any. Making a promise and not delivering on it erodes your integrity. It makes you look unreliable, untrustworthy and untruthful. For a leader these have grave consequences. Your team or employees lose interest in the organization. They will no longer be committed since they cannot trust you to protect their interest. They may in fact engage in deliberate acts of sabotage against the organization. Conversely, your customers and bankers will no longer feel comfortable doing business with you. If this continues it won’t take long before you go under.