Servant leadership is an increasingly popular approach to management, focused on empowering and inspiring employees while also providing them with the resources they need to succeed.
In this article, we will explore the seven pillars of servant leadership: how to lead with empowerment, compassion, and integrity. By understanding each pillar in detail, you can develop a better understanding of what it takes to be a successful leader.
What is Servant Leadership?
Servant leadership is a type of leadership style that focuses on serving and empowering people. The concept of servant leadership originated from the teachings of Jesus Christ, who said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” A leader with this approach often puts the needs of their people before their own and helps others reach their goals.
I was first introduced to the idea of servant leadership while serving in the U.S. Army. You may have heard of Simon Sinek’s book titled Leaders Eat Last. He describes an interaction with a U.S. Marine Corps General who shared with Sinek that one of the things that makes the USMC so great is that “officers eat last”.
Experiencing that first-hand as a U.S. Army soldier when my squad leader insisted that I go before him in the chow hall line was when leadership began to make sense for me from a serving others perspective. My friend and supervisor, Sergeant Rubio, then explained to me that it was his job to take care of his soldiers so that his soldiers would feel prepared and ready to take care of the mission.
It was not just about taking care of basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing. Servant leadership also included preparing soldiers for the job at hand, that they had the equipment needed, and the information needed to succeed.
7 Pillars of Servant Leadership
In the book Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership by James Sipe and Don Frick, there are seven pillars listed that support servant leadership.
- Person of Character
- Putting people first
- Skillful communicator
- Compassionate collaborator
- Systems thinking
- Moral authority
Person of Character
The first pillar of servant leadership is to be a person of character. This means that you must demonstrate the highest standards of integrity, honesty, and respect for others in all your interactions—from the way you interact with your colleagues to how you manage resources. It also involves showing humility, admitting mistakes, and taking responsibility when things go wrong.
Putting people first
The second pillar of servant leadership is to put people first. This means providing an environment where everyone feels respected, valued, and listened to. A good leader should be able to build meaningful relationships with their team members, understand and address their needs, and ensure that each person feels empowered to contribute in a positive way. (The Outward Mindset discussion with Jim McNeil.)
The third pillar of servant leadership is to be a skillful communicator. This involves actively listening to employees, understanding their perspectives, and providing clear directions that are easily understood. It also means being open-minded and respectful when discussing potential solutions or learning about new ideas.
The fourth pillar of servant leadership is to be a compassionate collaborator. This means working in partnership with employees, finding ways to support them, and providing feedback that shows genuine care for their development. It also involves showing empathy during difficult times and understanding the unique challenges each team member faces. (Listen to a conversation with Kingsley Grant on being an emotionally intelligent leader.)
The fifth pillar of servant leadership is foresight. Foresight is about vision and anticipation of needs. This requires leaders to anticipate potential issues and plan ahead to ensure their team is prepared. It also involves looking for opportunities that can help the team or organization reach its goals.
The sixth pillar of servant leadership is systems thinking. This means being able to look at the big picture, identify key elements and processes, and understand how they all fit together to form a cohesive whole. It also involves having the skills to recognize patterns and identify areas of improvement or potential safety issues. There is a strong aspect of having an Outward Mindset for others, your team, your leadership, your organization, and your customers.
The seventh pillar of servant leadership is moral authority over positional authority. The title someone holds may carry some decision-making power and responsibility. A servant leader recognizes that the person in charge does not need to have a title. You see this with flight crews and special operations groups in the U.S. military, where the person in charge may be the person with the most experience and not necessarily the highest-ranking person in the room.
Servant leadership shares the power held by the positional leader.
Setting an example for others by demonstrating respect, fairness, and integrity in all interactions. Leaders should strive to make decisions that are ethical and just, while also considering the impacts on the people they serve. This behavior is what gets emulated when power is shared.
Servant leadership is a powerful way to lead with not only respect for others but a true understanding of what it means to provide guidance and support in order to achieve success. By embracing these seven pillars, leaders can create meaningful relationships with their teams and foster an environment where everyone is empowered to do their best work.
Servant Leadership in Action
Now that we have discussed the seven pillars of servant leadership, how do you put servant leadership into practice?
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