Leadership is not about telling people what to do. A true leader is one who knows how to serve. Servant leadership means different things to different people. The philosophy closest to my heart, one that I learned at an early age from my father is of “service above self.” I watched him work tirelessly to develop other people and focus on what he could do to help selflessly.
Being a true servant leader is putting the needs of others ahead of your own in service to a larger purpose. I grew up heavily influenced by books on the life and philosophies of great servant leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. These were ordinary people who became extraordinary leaders as they found their purpose in service of others—who dedicated their entire lives serving a purpose bigger than themselves.
So what sets servant leaders apart from other types of leaders? I find these five qualities stand out.
John Maxwell famously said “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I am a strong believer that an organization is not defined by its products or its glitzy marketing. The people who work for the organization are its true assets. A leader who takes care of his people will never have to worry about poor customer service. When you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers.
Servant leaders recognize that you are placed on this earth alongside other wayfarers in this journey of life for a purpose. That none of them come into your circle of influence by coincidence and that, ultimately, you must extend your circle of care to include everyone you know and meet. Servant leaders care without restraint, without constraint, without condition.
2. Clarity of Vision
Ken Blanchard says in his book Servant Leader, “Servant leadership begins with a clear and compelling vision of the future that excites passion in the leader and commitment in those who follow.”
In order to understand your purpose, and focus on your objectives, clarity of vision is critical. Once you are clear about the vision, it is important that you communicate it to your team and unify them towards reaching a common objective. When your team can see that their leader knows where they are going and what they are doing, they are much more likely to be involved and engaged every step of the way.
You must realize that when you are in service of others, you are ultimately part of a grand master plan. As a servant leader, when you provide a clear vision everyone knows their role, and feels like their part is important to achieving the vision.
3. Core Values
Values are the pillars that uphold the entire structure of servant leadership. Your core values define who you are as a company and who you are as a leader. Core values are the DNA that makes your organization tick.
Honesty, truth, compassion and acceptance are some of the intrinsic core values shared by servant leaders everywhere. An unwavering commitment to these values is a core part of servant leadership philosophy. These values will serve as the light that dispels the inevitable darkness along the path towards your vision.
Core values are not marketing buzzwords. They should represent what’s truly important to your organization’s culture— to its fabric and what it really stands for.
4. Commitment to Growth
The biggest investment you can make in your people is your time. When you give them your time to help them develop both professionally as well as personally, it shows genuine interest in them as individuals. They know they are not just cogs in a wheel that add to a bottom line.
Servant leaders help their people become their best selves and create a culture of growth in their organization.
5. Creating a Will to Sacrifice
Historically, almost every servant leader didn’t choose to lead. They had leadership thrust upon them. They were the ones most prepared to sacrifice, give up, surrender, and do whatever was necessary to attain the goals for the greater good. The willingness to sacrifice everything for their cause is a powerful tool that unifies all those within the fold while inspiring and motivating them to greater success. Ultimately, success will always painstakingly collect a price. This price has to be paid either along the way, or even on rare occasions after the fact. It is inevitable and has to be recognized as a practical consideration of every leader in developing their strategy.
In conclusion, you lead by what you do, as opposed to what you say. It is the most challenging, yet most rewarding path to leadership. And there is no question in my mind that it is the only kind of leadership that prevails through the travails of time.