While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
Since I began my company in 2009, I have believed in and practiced servant leadership, to the best of my ability. What does it mean to me? I work, each and every day, for the good of not just myself, but others. At Webfor, 100% of the work we do benefits small-and-medium-sized businesses. Our company culture includes a willingness to step up and do what needs to be done, for the good of all. Each and every team member subscribes to this practice, each in his or her own way, and we have grown in leaps and bounds.
Whether it be taking out the garbage or grabbing a teammate a coffee, we each play a role in lifting up those around us. There are a million little ways to provide help and support to others each day, small gestures that tell others that they are valued. There is always extra time to thank someone for their hard work, hold the door for someone else, create a new process that helps everyone else do their best work. To me, servant leadership includes all of this, and so much more. To be a true servant leader, one must put others first and make decisions based on the good of all.
As a business grows, the needs of the company, its clients, and its employees change. True leaders adapt, adopting new practices and supporting the growth of team members along paths that interest and engage them. By inquiring each step of the way what my teammates’ interests are, I work to provide them with opportunities to grow and enjoy their work, which in turn benefits our clients. I consider it a privilege to help lift up the people around me.
Finally, there is one technique that I deeply believe in, and that is the mirror and the window. To me, this perspective represents true servant leadership.
If an issue arises or your team fails at what they set out to do, first look to yourself (in the mirror) for what you could have done better to improve the situation. However, if your team succeeds, look out the window and give praise, kudos, and credit to others who helped make your victory possible. With this practice, you never take all the credit when things go well and certainly do not bring others down with criticism when events do not go as planned. Using the mirror and window helps to buoy both you and your team on positive, affirming, supportive waters. If your team members are following your lead and practicing the same everyone will be in a constant state of upward movement, always looking at how they can personally improve, continually building up those around them.
Anyone and everyone can be a servant leader. What opportunities are showing up for you today?