I was talking to my business coach (everyone should have one, by the way, no matter how high up the ladder you are) about the art and science of Servant Leadership, and how its key tenets impact businesses--from startups to Fortune 100.
The conversation took a turn. How do you explain it to people? It's such a paradoxical leadership style.
Well, we both came to the conclusion that the paradox forces the best servant leaders to have a proper balance between certain behaviors that will guide their businesses forward.
Here is the best way to describe what I mean using 7 paradoxical examples.
Leaders Are Called to Be Great, Servant Leaders Are Called to Be Great and Humble.
All leaders are called to be great in what they do, but when pride gets in the way--the self-centered and self-serving kind--it becomes about "us." That's when we lose the focus of servant leadership, perhaps some of our team members in the process. Servant leaders have to be great enough to be without pride, meaning that the team gets the credit.
Leaders Have to Be Planned, Servant Leaders Are Planned Enough to Be Spontaneous.
There's the balance. Sometimes too much process--a bureaucratic environment--will stifle creativity, innovation, or doing something new. Servant leaders plan ahead, but have a keen sense of spontaneously conceiving solutions to problems that do not currently exist. Plan with the end in mind, adjust spontaneously to change and disruption.
Leaders Are Compassionate, Servant Leaders Are Compassionate Enough to Discipline.
Servant leaders are so often, and erroneously, pigeonholed into the "empathetic" way of leading. Sure, it's a trait of the best leaders, and scientifically-verifiable, period. But too much compassion without discipline encourages irresponsibility. We don't want country club leadership, where everyone is happy-go-lucky and every day feels like a pool party. Servant leaders are not soft. They set high expectations for themselves and for their team, and follow through on them.
Leaders Have to Be Right, Servant Leaders Are Right Enough to Say, "I'm Wrong."
A right leader is certainly a confident leader. A leader that is confident but acknowledges in their humility when they're wrong, that's' a leader people will follow. They admit that they make mistakes. They are human. This builds trust..
Leaders Are Wise, Servant Leaders Are Wise Enough to Admit "I Don't Know."
Similar to being right enough to say "I'm wrong," this leader will seek input to answer questions he or she doesn't know about. When they admit they don't know, they do it quickly, and they don't mislead. There is wisdom in that.
Leaders Are Busy and Productive, Servant Leaders Are Busy and Productive Enough to Make Time and Listen
A servant leader's strong work ethic and personal ambition will not neglect the human interaction that leads to prolific employee engagement. This speaks to the empathy from earlier, which is a rare commodity in the heartless, transactional way of leading.
Leaders Drive Others, Servant Leaders Drive Others by Meeting Their Needs
They are driven for results, but not at the expense of people. The difference maker is to serve the needs of others, the organization and its mission for the greater good of society. This is a higher calling than most leaders. Commitment to the growth of people--personal and professional growth--is also high as a servant leader's priority. They take a personal interest in the ideas and suggestions from everyone, encouraging employee involvement by sharing power and sharing decision-making.