It took me too long to discover servant leadership. It’s taking too long for others to discover the concept as well. Simply put, servant leadership is authentic leadership. If you’re not serving others, you’re not leading.
The problem is, most definitions of servant leadership are difficult to understand or share. Therefore, to increase awareness and advocacy I created a more simple definition, using the acronym S.E.R.V.A.N.T.
This acronym is not just another model for servant leadership though. Instead, it is a compilation of many, wonderful models before it. In fact, it’s based on my 10+ years studying servant leadership. I simply compiled the thoughts of other great servant leadership advocates into an easier to remember model.
The S.E.R.V.A.N.T. Leadership acronym defines servant leaders as:
Selflessness is about putting the needs of others before yourself. Specifically, we speak here of putting the needs of those you serve, first. To lead effectively, you must serve many stakeholder groups and their interests should come before your own. This does not mean personal career goals should be ignored – only that they must come after serving stakeholders.
In order to lead people, you need to know what it feels like to walk a mile in their shoes. Even if you’ve never been in their position, you must have the empathy to perceive their circumstances. This is why corporate leaders, who distance themselves from those they serve, lose the commitment of their people. Leaders who lose the ability to empathize lose the ability to lead.
The resolve of a leader is often overlooked in traditional servant leadership perspectives, yet it is a critical attribute of effective servant leaders. As servant leadership advocates face detractors, it would be easy to say, “we don’t really need a unique culture” or “good is okay, we don’t need to be great.” If they do that, their organizations are unlikely to serve all stakeholders.
People demand virtuous leaders. Nothing undermines a leader’s mission faster than a failure of his or her character. Stakeholders don’t want leaders who are only good at their job; they expect leaders who represent what is best in all of us. The well-rounded leader is one with strong virtues.
Authenticity ties intentions to actions without pretense. To serve others effectively, you must be transparent about actions and intentions. If you want loyalty and commitment from others, stakeholders must know that you are candid, sincere about your intentions, and opposed to practicing dirty politics. If a follower is uncertain about your intent, they will not deliver their best.
For your organization to thrive, you must always be on the lookout for new ideas. This is why servant leaders must be open-minded and willing to be vulnerable to their people. Great leaders understand that great ideas may come from anywhere. The people closest to the problem are often the ones best prepared to find a solution—not the senior executive, who hasn’t been on the front lines in a decade.
Servant Leaders maximize the sustainability of results. They do this by being thorough. A common failure of executives today is an emphasis on short-term results without regard for the long-term costs. This trade-off, to make themselves and their results look great while pushing the costs and impact downstream, weakens institutions. In contrast, servant leaders are extremely thorough.
In upcoming posts, I’ll cover each of these principles in more detail. If you’re interested in learning more about servant leadership in general though, I urge you to sign up for my free course: Servant Leadership 101. In that course, I touch briefly on this acronym but also cover the history, current examples and more. Until next time, remember, keep serving!
Question: What principle of servant leaders do you think is most important?