How To Become a Creativity Inspiring Leader - #3

With all the leadership fads and gimmicks that exist in the market-place, you'd be forgiven for thinking this is just another one of many. Servant Leadership, however, is a radically new approach to leadership that is based on a lifestyle, rather than a simple method, that can transform your organisational culture.

As I have stressed in the previous two blog posts, mere knowledge about Servant Leadership will not make a difference. It is only when you choose to embody this way of living - and face the difficult task of 'changing' your previous way - that you will see the full impact of Servant Leadership.

Robert K. Greenleaf spent his forty year career at AT&T in the field of management research, with a particular interest in leadership. After these valuable years of observation and practice, Greenleaf founded the Center for Applied Ethics, and began to communicate his belief in Servant Leadership as the way forward for organisations.

Greenleaf described Servant Leadership as an attitude of desiring to serve others first, and then consciously choosing to lead to achieve this goal. His measuring stick is found in the answer to this question:

The best test is: Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?"

Servant Leadership is founded on the belief that when people are being treated as human-beings, they are much more likely to thrive in every area of the organisation - productivity, communication, efficiency - and innovation. More so, the employees will enjoy being part of your company, creating low turn-over and strong belief in the importance of your organisation.

In Larry Spears' (Graduate Professor at Gonzaga University) analysis of Servant Leadership, he identified ten major attributes a servant leader must embody. The first three are:

1. Listening

The ability to listen is quickly becoming a lost art in the West. With all the Tweets, messages and blogs (yes, I recognise the irony of this statement) circling around, we are creating a culture of speaking, without listening to others first.

Many leaders believe that to maintain an image of control, they must speak clearly, quickly and directly. Many of them, however, fail to take the crucial step of listening first.

Herb Kelleher, CEO of SouthWest Airlines, believed that his company's flight attendants were the leaders in his organisation who would make the crucial difference on SouthWest's success or not. As a servant leader, Herb made a point of listening to his flight attendants (and baggage handlers) to hear the problems they faced, and also the solutions they proposed. 

This simple act greatly values the employees, and also illuminates the greatest truth about creativity - most of the time, the creative solutions are lying latent within your organisation. They just need to be heard.

2. Empathy

A servant leader is empathetic towards their followers, and strives to understand the needs, desires and personalities of all of their team. They do not view their followers as minions or subservients, or as part of the organisational change - but primarily they view them as people.

Empathetic leaders also recognise and celebrate the diversity in their team, as they see this as an essential part of being human. Diversity is not a problem to be managed, but an opportunity for multiple voices and opinions to converge, often creating new insights that could not be found with a homogenous group.

Kenny Moore, from Andy's Burgers (a fast food chain in America), models empathetic leadership among his predominatly teenage employees. He describes his approach as:

"We build relationships with them. We understand that prom is coming up, and if they want off on that night, that is fine. We even ask them to come by the restaurant, where we take their picture with their date and post it up in the store. Young people quickly learn that they are important, and they extend that respect to each other and to the customer."

This empathy empowers his young staff to care more for the organisation, and has seen Andy's Burgers grow in profitability in the past twenty years.

3. Helps

Helps leaders go beyond the call of duty to help their followers. Contractually, an organisational leader has no obligation to look after the needs of their followers, especially if they are problems or needs that arise from outside the work environment.

Spears writes: "Many people have broken spirits and have suffered from a variety of emotional hurts. Although this is a part of being human, servant-leaders recognize that they have an opportunity to "help make whole" those with whom they come in contact."

The servant leader is able to identify the hurts of their followers, and can compassionately act to help the follower through that hurt. 

One small organisation I worked with embodied this approach well. When an employee was sick at home, a leader went past and gifted the employee some orange juice and chocolate, to help aid the recovery process. This small act was transformational to the workplace culture, and helped create belief in the organisation are care for each employee.

Where have you seen these practices embodied in an organisation? What has been the impact? Please post any stories below.

The next blog post will explore three more attributes of Servant Leadership.