Startups provide leadership in the market. Entrepreneurs provide leadership to their startups. There are many styles of leadership, such as dictatorial, laissez-faire and democratic, but the one I hear discussed more these days is “servant” leadership.
The servant leader serves people through mentoring, direct assistance, listening and acting on their employees’ input. It’s the opposite of self-serving, domineering leadership, and it makes those in charge think harder about how to respect, value and motivate the people reporting to them.
Robert K. Greenleaf developed the concept in 1970. Greenleaf felt that servant leaders are effective because the needs of followers are so looked after that everyone reaches their full potential, hence performing at their best, both individually and as a team.
According to Greenleaf, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Jesus are all good examples of servant leadership. What do you have in common with them?
If you recognize yourself in most of the following questions, you may not be another Gandhi, but you are well on your way to becoming a servant leader.
- Do team members believe you want to hear their ideas and will value them?
- Does your team believe you have a strong awareness of what is going on and why?
- Does everyone follow your direction because they want to, or because they have to?
- Do others on your team communicate their ideas and vision for the organization when you are around?
- Do people believe that you are committed to helping them develop and grow?
- Do people come to you when the chips are down, or when something traumatic has happened in their lives?
- Does everyone have confidence in your ability to anticipate the future and its consequences?
- Does the team believe you are leading the organization to make a real difference in the world?
- Do people believe you are willing to sacrifice your own self-interest for the good of the team?
- Does everyone feel a strong sense of community in the company you lead?
Many of the characteristics implied in these questions come more naturally to some people than others. Experts argue that some traits are inherent and difficult to learn. But characteristics such as listening, awareness, persuasion and the ability to build a community are all learnable skills.
You should reflect and thoughtfully assess the degree to which you have what it takes to be a servant leader. If you are committed to being the best servant leader that you can be, I urge you to continuously work toward developing these characteristics.
Some executives think serving people’s needs creates the perception of being slavish or subservient. A sense of balance is required because leaders need to serve the needs of customers and stakeholders, as well as those of team members.
For comparison purposes, autocratic leaders tend to make decisions without consulting their teams. Laissez-faire and democratic leaders normally allow people within the team to make most of the decisions, based on consensus. In reality, the very best leaders are those who can use a variety of leadership styles effectively, and use the right style for each situation.
I encourage you to take a look in the mirror and check your leadership style. Just to make sure you are not looking through rose-colored glasses, ask a few of your most trusted associates what they see. If the answers surprise you, it may be time to find a leadership mentor.