Leading others is commonly executed using various models and styles of leadership, frequently changing from one style of leadership to another to suit the current circumstances.
Initially, when contemplating different styles of leadership, you might presume that one leadership style is better than another.
If you closely examine each model, however, you will find that each leadership style has its unique advantages in the leader’s arsenal.
An astute leader knows to switch from one style to another as the situation demands. As a result, each leadership style will have its own benefits and drawbacks, as well as their appropriate application in specific situations.
Kurt Uhlir is an expert in servant leadership and a globally-recognized marketer, operator, and keynote speaker.
He has written extensively on servant leadership and authored a book read by over 10,000 business leaders on the subject.
Essentially, he helps build successful companies and has a track record of doing so. To steer this piece, we interviewed him for insight.
Below, we will scrutinize the servant leadership model closely, including what it signifies, some renowned leaders that have predominantly employed this leadership style, and its benefits and drawbacks. Let’s start with a clear definition of ‘servant leadership’.
What Is Servant Leadership?
You are probably wondering what the term ‘servant leadership’ means. How can we best define the term?
In essence, a servant leader is someone that operates with the passion to serve first and lead second. It’s an approach where the servant-leader mostly focuses on the well-being and development of people along with the communities that they belong to.
While conventional leadership mostly involves one individual at the “top of the pyramid” collecting and using power or authority, servant leadership is distinct from this notion.
The servant-leader first distributes power amongst others and then supports others to grow and operate in the most optimal way possible.
Servant leadership might be a long-standing concept, but the phrase “servant leadership” was actually devised in an essay titled “The Servant as Leader” by Robert K. Greenleaf that was first published in 1970. Greenleaf said the following in the essay:
The servant-leader is first a servant. It starts with the feeling that a person wants to serve, which comes naturally and that service comes first.
The conscious choice then brings one to aspire to lead. Such an individual is sharply different from one that’s a leader first, perhaps due to the need to acquire material possessions or assuage an unusual power.
The servant-first and leader-first are two extreme types. However, between them are blends and shadings that form part of the infinite variety of human nature.
Greenleaf explains further that the difference generally manifests itself in the care that the servant-first leader takes to ensure that the highest priority needs of other people are being served.
The ideal tests that are also most difficult to administer are whether they served to grow as persons, whether they become wiser, healthier, more autonomous, freer while being served and more likely to become servants themselves, as well as what the effect is on the least privileged in society.
Whether they will benefit or at least not be deprived further.
So, this leadership type tends to extend beyond an organization’s environment to reach those that are linked with it in any way. This includes employees, stakeholders, customers, and clients, with the standard leadership characteristic being “serving others”.
Merits of Servant Leadership
Here are the main benefits of servant leadership:
- Servant leaders gain respect from employees due to their gentle and kind nature.
- It usually boosts employee morale.
- People tend to feel more valued in their roles.
- Employees realize that management is looking out for their interests and therefore perform optimally.
- Staff grows and develops skills more rapidly in an environment that supports growth opportunities, decision-making, development, as well as cooperation between teams.
- Employees participating in decision-making usually feel more assured that their opinions are respected whenever business challenges are being faced.
- Companies are able to share their mission and vision more transparently, which helps people buy into what they’re doing.
Drawbacks of Servant Leadership
- Just as with all leadership models, the servant leadership model also has its disadvantages, such as:
- The majority of managers and leaders will not have grown up with a servant attitude, which means that it can take both effort and time for leaders to change their leadership style.
- Staff usually look to leaders in times of crisis to take control and make immediate decisions, which servant leadership does not encourage.
- Staff may have to either come up with ideas or make conclusions without seeing the bigger picture or when they have a limited understanding of business strategy and market share or budgeting.
- Employees may lack the knowledge, capability, or experience to help an organization or business move forward and grow. This can leave the business unprotected in case the decisions are critical to successful competitiveness in the market.
- In servant leadership, even employees that aren’t leaders will be involved in decision-making, which means that it can take longer for decisions to be collected and conclusions reached.