Leadership has been written and talked about for decades, with great authors defining it in different ways calling it different things. In the end, most of these folks have been talking about the same things.
The simple truth is that leadership (and life, really) is about people and relationships. And you can start with the proven fact that great leaders aspire to lead by serving the needs of their people.
This idea of empowering and putting others ahead of yourself, as a leader, is still foreign territory in typical command and control structures so prevalent today.
But as readers familiar with my thought-leadership know, servant leadership has risen from a noble and ethical leadership ideology stuck in religious worldviews to the very principles of how the most successful companies on the planet operate and profit.
The 4 Mistakes So Many Bosses Still Make
Servant leadership has taught us that to excel as leaders, there are certain costly things we must avoid doing, no matter how counter-intuitive it may seem at first glance. These are four common mistakes we see in today's power-based, autocratic management styles.
1. Treating people like machines.
Employees are the cogs in the machine used to profit the people at the top. In servant leadership, the business metaphor is that it's an organic structure of open and authentic relationships. The authority is quite clear: one is top down, the other thrives through collaboration and participation by the whole group.
2. Using people as instruments of production.
In power-based management structures, directions flow from the top and it's "do as I say" because they hold all the knowledge and decision-making. In servant leadership cultures, they tap into people as their greatest assets -- as fellow business owners whose input, feedback and creativity is valued. Such leaders create an environment in which risks are taken, allowing those around them to feel safe to exercise their ideas openly. That's because there's trust there, not fear. It communicates to employees a sense of "Hey, we're all in this together." While the culture in top-down management structures is to dictate, control and punish, the servant leadership approach is to listen to all sides, facilitate, coach and encourage.
3. Managers are often detached and distant.
You may not even see or know who those leaders are because they rarely come out of their "cave." They alienate their staff with their invisible act and superiority complex, which stems from an insecurity and lack of confidence in their inability to influence, persuade, and rally the troops. In servant leadership, leaders are connected and present, walk their four corners, and are very engaged in the work of those around them.
4. Service orientation is self-serving.
The question in top-down management structures is "what can this person I just hired do for me or my department so I look good?" While that's certainly convenient and in tune with traditional management -- and there's nothing wrong with that approach as it helps drive productivity and profitability -- the servant leadership question asked, which also leads to profitable goals and results, is "what can I do to help you fulfill your personal and professional goals?" and "How can I help utilize your strengths and talent to advance our organizational mission?
Bringing It Home
There are definite concerns and misconceptions about servant leadership. People do not understand it as the path to high performance and business results. The words serve and servant come across with meekness and weakness.
Unfortunately, its this negative public perception that holds servant leadership back from its full potential. The plain truth: Servant leadership is a far more daring and difficult path than people think or realize. Servant leaders know that they operate by a higher standard and measure -- one that is unmatched by autocratic and power-based management thinkers. It's the simple formula of relationships + results = success.