The title of this blog post is one of the core tenets from the credo for managers and above at a employer where I enjoyed 11+ years as a business management consultant. At first glance an oxymoron might appear to exist as if the leader and servant are polar opposite roles. I could not disagree more. I believe they are indeed one in the same and I embrace the concept of the servant leader with boundless enthusiasm.
According the Marcus Buckingham in “The One Thing You Need to Know” leaders are very distinct from managers in that the latter expends more energy focusing in on the individual and identifies ways to motivate him or her in the way that proves most effective for that individual. The role of the former by contrast is all about inspiring the collective group and generating enthusiasm to drive to a better future.
I purport that for either to be effective they must serve the needs of those they lead and/or manage. I recognize that such needs might include calling out where people are miscast and exploring possibilities for change. (As a tangential note, it is surely uncomfortable – yet sometimes appropriate – to suggest that a fit is not right and in the end the just response is to explore alternative options outside of the organization.)
In the absence of any changes in personnel it is obligatory for the those towards the top to serve the needs of those who support their initiatives and objectives. The only foundational element I know to facilitate this is humility. Leaders are no less limited by their own humanness and we cannot ever forgot that.
I am in no way positing that leaders should lower their expectations or allow their strategies be guided by the attitudes of their people. In fact, I am saying the exact opposite. A leader must be steadfast in their pursuits. The manner in which they communicate and execute says everything about their view of the people who support them. And that will determine sustainability.
We will never observe sustained dedication by demanding. The only way to realize sustained commitment is by treating people with dignity which fosters trust. How people are treated is the indispensable ingredient to servant leadership. To me, the leader who serves will be most successful in optimizing sustained output from the people in their team or organization.