Leadership is Service

Leadership is Service –

American newspaper commentator Walter Lippmann defined leaders as “the custodians of a nation’s ideals, the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals.”

If a leader is a custodian, then what is a custodian?

A Custodian is an individual who upholds what is best for all people even if it may not be in their own interest to do so. It is an attitude that focuses on the task at hand and not on what the leader may gain from the position. It implies a caring and concerned relationship between leaders and followers; individuals motivated by their constituents’ best interests.

Now let’s try an eye-opening exercise. Reread Lippmann’s definition and replace the word “nation” in with the word “business” or even “company”.  Do those words aptly describe your leadership skills or the skills of your company’s leader? If so, congratulations you are or work with a true servant leader – what Collins would call a Level 5 Leader.

True leadership is and has always been selfless action. It involves taking oneself out of the equation and considering the needs of others. It is a way of thinking that takes other people into account first even when your own needs are pressing.

In today’s world where companies are created, grown and sold within just a few years, sometimes months, executives are often lured into thinking their team is a tool…something to use, something that can be leveraged to help them achieve their personal vision.  This mindset isn’t leadership at all; a more appropriate word would be exploitation or what Likert would call Exploitive Authoritative Leadership. Sound harsh?  Sure it does.  Exploitation always is. While exploitive leadership can often lead to temporary gain, it rarely leads to loyalty, fulfillment, self-sacrifice or actualization of a team’s potential.  It is even less likely to lead to a higher company valuation or increased long-term profitability.

Those who lack the ability to act as a true servant leader rarely employ a singular negative management style in its stead. Rather they often adjust their tactics based on the tolerance levels of their subordinates. Usually, a combination of Post-hoc Management, Micromanagement, Seagull Management (Flying in, pooping on you and flying off again), Mushroom Management (Drop them in poo and keep them in the dark) and  Kipper management are often used in concert. This further complicates team dynamics as feelings of inequality within the team breed mistrust and resentment of one another.

We all know the eventualities…dissatisfaction leads to attrition, attrition leads to degradation of quality and service, and low quality leads to lower sales.  What follows should be obvious.

But enough about them…let’s talk about true greatness, the greatness that comes with the acceptance that no one has ever succeeded alone… no one.  Direct reports of servant leaders soon begin to move with their own momentum. Not fearing judgment, they engage and communicate with each other in a conversational way. They share ideas, collaborate intuitively, and warn each other of potential pitfalls, all for the betterment of the team.  The servant leader provides validation and empowerment uncovering depths of unified ability, the whole of which being truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Principles of servant leadership as defined by the Alliance for Servant Leadership are:

  • Transformation as a vehicle for personal and institutional growth.
  • Personal growth as a route to better serve others.
  • Enabling environments that empower and encourage service.
  • Service as a fundamental goal.
  • Trusting relationships as a basic platform for collaboration and service.
  • Creating commitment as a way to collaborative activity.
  • Community building as a way to create environments in which people can trust each other and work together.
  • Nurturing the spirit as a way to provide joy and fulfillment in meaningful work.

Quite the contrast isn’t it?

It is a leader’s responsibility to support the team so that they together might combine their efforts into a single mindset.  A company can succeed because of its team and in spite of its leader, but never the other way around.  Only through commitment to each team member’s individual success will one become a true servant leader and achieve lasting greatness.

In short, true leadership emerges only from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others.

About the Author: Tra Williams is Founder and Managing Partner of Eastbourne Brands.  As a student of leadership, his primary goal is to provide every Eastbourne Brand with all that they need to actualize their potential.