#010 - An overview of servant leadership and leaders who serve, with your host, Dr. Charles Boyer. Today's leaders are - or should be - more collaborative, more empowering, more in sync with their values.
Hello again, and Welcome to KEYS FOR NEW LEADERS, a podcast that is just for YOU. This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s YOU, my friend. I want to thank YOU for downloading and listening to these podcasts, and thank you again for subscribing. If you’re just joining us, take a minute to click on the subscribe or “follow” link if you’re on Apple Podcasts, so you won’t miss an episode.
This is Episode 10 – hard to imagine that we’ve actually done that many in such a short time. For me, it has been interesting, challenging, and yes, FUN, to put these episodes together. I’m an old dog, yet I’ve learned more than a few new skills, tips and tricks, then tried them out, and then found to my amazement that they actually work! I consider myself technologically challenged, yet the technology is wonderful and makes the process easier. However, it’s the content that I’m most concerned with. If these programs have been both informative and helpful to YOU, my friend, I’ve done my job.
In this episode, I’d like us to focus on Leaders Who Serve Others, and specifically focus on YOU, the new leader, and what it means to be a servant leader. The focus of this whole series is on YOU, the one who leads others by serving them. This will be more of an overview. It’s just not possible to go too much in depth in a 15 to 20 minute podcast. But we’ll make sure to talk about the main points, give you some things to think about, maybe stir up a few actions, and then suggest some resources for your further study and practice. Yes, it will take YOU time and lots of practice to put all these pieces to good use.
There’s a TON of good books, articles, workshops and webinars out there. I’ll list a few of my favorite books for you at the end of this episode, and will give you some good questions to ponder, as well as some things you can put into practice right away.
So, let’s get started. The term, servant leader, may sound a bit unusual to you at first, but as we’re well into the 21st century, the concept of servant leader is becoming better known and is the model for today’s leaders. The old top-down “I’m the boss and you’ll do as I say” model is last century leadership. Today’s leaders are – or should be – more collaborative, more empowering, more in sync with their values.
Many of us probably think of servant leader in a religious context. That’s still a good model to follow, yet it’s not the only way leaders are described in today’s world. The term has been used more broadly to describe qualities and characteristics of today’s leaders. The most basic definition of a servant leader is one who leads by serving others. But there’s so much more to it than that! Servant leaders empower individuals, focus on their growth, and ensure their basic needs are met. Servant leaders inspire others to do their best, guide by their influence and their example, and hold individuals on their team to account. How is that like YOU?
In getting ready for this podcast, I’ve thought a lot about my own experiences, and have also studied a number of articles and books, ranging from 3 top qualities or five characteristics of servant leaders, to ten or twelve, and on to Maxwell’s 21 Qualities – all very good, but we need to keep this podcast to a reasonable length. You need an episode, not a Wagnerian opera! I’m going to summarize these points for YOU in this episode. You can easily get overwhelmed with all this good information, and that’s not why we’re here. So, let’s take a listen to several of the most common descriptions of qualities and characteristics of servant leaders. As we touch on each one, think how these qualities and characteristics apply to YOU.
Out of so many, I’ve selected the five most frequently mentioned. The others are just as important and deserve your attention as well. The top five qualities or characteristics most often mentioned are: TRUST, LISTENING, EMPATHY, VISION, and DEVELOPMENT. Sometimes the words are different, but I’ve condensed them a bit for some clarity. Let’s take a brief look at each one:
· TRUST – and here comes that TRUST once again. TRUST is the foundation of all the other things to follow. Where there is TRUST, there is CREDIBILITY and there are the makings of a cohesive, well-functioning team and a thriving workplace. TRUST must be earned all day, every day and through every interaction with the people you lead. TRUST is hard to earn and easy to lose.
· LISTENING – again, the importance of engaged listening is near the top as an important quality or characteristic of servant leaders. Listening has been described as the JUDO of communication skills – It’s gentle, flexible, and REALLY powerful. Good leaders listen well to what is being said, paying close attention to the person speaking to them, maintaining eye contact, noticing what is being said, what gestures accompany the speaking, and perhaps what is left
unsaid. Great leaders listen even better. One person calls it “squinting with your ears.” What a great term!
· EMPATHY – this is one of the main distinctions of being a servant leader, and that is caring about the people you serve. Servant leaders focus on people rather than on the company or organization. Simon Sinek describes a leader with empathy as not about being in charge, but about taking care of those in your charge. The really important distinction here is that you share thoughts and feelings of another person from their point of view rather than your own.
· VISION – this is perhaps a leader’s most unique quality, and that is the ability to grasp the whole of a project or task, and to inspire that vision to everyone you lead. Sometimes, it’s a tangible goal, and sometimes it’s only an idea or a concept. The leaders’ job is to help others do their part so that the whole becomes a reality. That may sound a bit cloudy, so let’s see if we can clear that up a little. Here’s an example or three: I think of President Kennedy’s vision of landing on the moon within a decade. What an absurd vision, many thought. Yet, it happened. The impossible happened. Walt Disney had a vision of Disneyland – and look what became of that vision! Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech still rings loud and clear, inspiring many with his vision.
· DEVELOPMENT – there are many things included in this rather general term. A servant leader seeks to make it better for everyone by a commitment to the growth of people, by building a good community, by encouraging and committing to self-development, and by a commitment to excellence. It’s more than that – it’s a commitment to always aiming for better. No matter how well we do something, it can always be better. A product can always be improved. You can always learn something new. You can always encourage someone to improve whatever it is that they already do well, and hold them to account for their actions.
That last part can be too easily brushed aside, yet it is essential to your success as a servant leader, and that is ACCOUNTABILITY. That was the focus of Episode 9, and holding others to account is a vital part of serving others. You must Inspire others, you must Empower others, you must help them achieve, AND you must Hold Others to Account. And that includes YOU, also. You are the example.
So far, we’ve talked mostly about nuts and bolts here – the definitions, the descriptions, the examples, and the how-to-do-its. This is all good information, but I’m most concerned about YOU. All this can be information overload, and that’s not what we want at all. For now, let’s limit our attention to just these five qualities – TRUST, LISTENING, EMPATHY, VISION and DEVELOPMENT – and think about how these fit YOU. Where do these show up in YOUR life? Here’s a series of open-ended questions or statements for you to think about.
· TRUST –
o How important is TRUST to you?
o How do you know when you can trust someone?
o Others can trust me when I …
· LISTENING –
o How would you describe engaged listening?
o When I listen really well to others, I am …
o When others listen really well to me, I feel …
· EMPATHY –
o Why is empathy an essential quality for servant leaders?
o When has someone else demonstrated empathy to you?
o What does “empathy” say about you?
· VISION –
o Why is VISION so important?
o Describe a time when someone has been effective at describing his/her vision
o How do you feel when describing your vision to others?
· DEVELOPMENT –
o Self-development is important to me because …
o How do you encourage others to learn and grow?
o Which is more important to you – done early or done well?
Points to Ponder – here are a few more open-ended questions to give you some food for thought:
· How well do you serve others at the present time?
· What is one thing you can improve?
· How would you describe “servant leadership” to one of your colleagues?
Actions Speak Louder – a few more things to think about:
· How would others describe you as a servant leader?
· Describe a time when you have led by example.
· What one action step can you take right away to show others that you are there to serve them?
A good friend of mine used to say “the notes are only a place to begin to make music,” and so it is with servant leadership. This episode, these notes, and this information are only the beginnings to your becoming a leader who truly serves others. I like to think of this podcast as one part of spiral learning – that is, we’ll spiral back around to this topic on later episodes and explore servant leadership from several other points of view and in more depth. I’m trusting that I’ve given you a good start and that you’ll want to learn more.
At the end of the transcript for this episode, I’ll include a list of 10 books that are among my favorites. You may find others that appeal to you more, and that’s great! Reading several different sources, even though they may say similar things, helps you absorb these principles and helps encourage you to apply them in your own life. I wish you good reading – AND good leading!
In the next episode, we’re going to talk about HABITS OF EXCELLENCE. If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing WELL! Join me next week for some thoughts, tips and tidbits on how YOU can build on YOUR Habits of Excellence. Until then, stay safe and well, my friend.
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Anderson & Anderson: Becoming a Leader of Character
Blanchard & Broadwell: Servant Leadership in Action
Bramlett, Cara: Servant Leadership Roadmap
Brown, Brené: Dare to Lead
Gordon, Jon: The Power of Positive Leadership
Kouzes & Posner: Leadership Challenge
Maxwell, John: 21 Qualities of Leadership in the Bible
Secretan, Lance: Inspire! What Great Leaders Do
Sinek, Simon: The Infinite Game
Strock, James: Serve to Lead