Last week I shared my 4 Top Leadership Priorities.These priorities are central to what I teach others about leadership in classes, and these priorities inform how I want to lead personally.
In this post, I want to settle in on the first priority identified in that post: Servant Leadership and Follower Focus.
Greenleaf on Servant Leadership
Robert K. Greenleaf was one of the first people to write about servant leadership in the contemporary literature. Although it is easily argued that servant leadership has ancient roots, I’m grateful for voices like Greenleaf who brought attention to the practice of servant leadership in the context of modern organizations. Here is one look at Greenleaf’s priorities:
“The servant-leader is servant first…. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first…. 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 this: 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?”
Greenleaf was working out his approach to leadership in the context of AT&T at the time of these reflections. Others have gone on to engage this “servant first” approach to leadership in diverse organizational sectors since then. At the core of this servant first approach to leadership is the focus leaders place on follwers.
In my own dissertation research, I discovered that servant leadership practices are not only a good idea, but that they also are effective. Here are a few resources that point such findings: (IJLS Journal Article; PIL blog series).
The Core of Servant Leadership is Follower Focus
What differentiates servant leadership from other approaches to leadership? The short answer is “follower focus.”
Stone, Russell, and Patterson put it this way:
“The principal difference between transformational leadership and servant leadership is the focus of the leader…. The overriding focus of the servant leader is upon service to their followers…. The stress of servant leadership is upon the leader’s aim to serve. This desire to serve people supersedes organizational objectives. Servant leadership is a belief that organizational goals will be achieved on a long-term basis only by first facilitating the growth, development, and general well-being of the individuals who comprise the organization.”
In a previous post, I expressed this concept in the following manner:
“While the organization as a whole needs to be externally focused (serving its customers, constituents, or mission), the primary focus of the leader must be on serving and caring for the followers who are directly responsible for fulfilling the organization’s mission.”
At the end of the day, servant leaders care deeply about organizations meeting their goals. However, this commitment starts with care for and focus on followers.
When you consider your own approach to leadership and where your focus lies, where do followers fit into your primary commitments?
When honestly answered, are followers viewed primarily as a means to organizational ends, or are followers at the core of your leadership commitments, and thus valued primarily for who they are rather than simply what they contribute?
In my next post, I’ll turn my attention to the second leadership priority that further connects follower focus to organizational transformation and goal attainment.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Please share them below.