Do we serve by leading, or lead by serving? Servant Leadership is a term that, to many, will sound contradictory, but Tom Peters said, “Organizations exist to serve -period. Leaders live to serve – period”.
The idea that servants can be leaders appears topsy turvy, but the paradigm of autocratic, authoritative, power-wielding leadership is becoming increasingly unacceptable; and it is proving ineffectual in ensuring the motivation of people to serve the customer.
Leadership by persuasion, by influence, by example is the approach of the servant leader who, remembering that the value of coercive power is inverse to its use, brings results by convincement rather than coercion. The servant leader has power and authority, but neither wears it as a mantle nor uses it as a tool.
Servant leaders are just as determined as their counterparts, it is just that they have an approach that sees leadership in a different way. They lead from within the body of the organisation, not from in front, or above, or behind, but as first amongst equals; and they spread their influence, vision and values through contact with people, by showing example rather than by issuing orders and policy.
The servant leader is close to the customer because he or she is close to the people. Servant leadership is functionally far superior to the other models of leadership because the servant leader is part of the whole team, not ‘the management’. The servant leader sees things, hears things and knows the same things as the people being led. This breeds trust and dependability amongst those being led. Servant leaders not only ‘walk the floor’, they ‘walk their talk’.
The servant leader gives power away, empowering people to do things whilst still carrying the responsibility for the outcomes and this leads to a freedom to exercise initiative in the customer-facing employee, when dealing with customer issues.
There is an essential artistry about servant leaders. They are not only trusting, but trustworthy. Above all, servant leaders are totally customer focussed and they help to shape other people toward that goal.
The servant leader says, “I am in the business of growing people – people who are stronger, healthier, more autonomous, more self-reliant, more competent. Incidentally, we also make and sell at a profit things that people want to buy so we can pay for all of this. We play that game hard and well and we are successful but the usual standards but that is really incidental. Consequently, as an institution, we are terribly strong. In fact, we are distinguished. How do I know we are distinguished? Because the best people want to work for us. We select the best of the best and, once inside, they never want to leave. Any business that can do that is a winner.” – Robert Greenleaf
This is not a Utopian dream. Leaders who are servants and fully embrace servant leadership as a concept, cascade Service-Ability from the top down. They change the leadership ethic throughout the whole organisation, from command-and-control and the treatment of people as cogs in the machine, to the idea that it is the people who are the organisation and that the leader exists only to serve them in order to facilitate them in their work of serving the customer; using power to allocate resources with the overall aim of serving those who in turn serve the customer.
The servant leader is at the heart of Service-Ability because he or she ensures that the organisation is not a hierarchy of authority, backed by raw ‘do-as-I-say ‘power, but a community, comprising mini communities of cohesive, largely self-directing work groups of responsible people, amongst whom are also servant leaders who, in turn, lead the same way – and all serving the needs of the customer for total customer satisfaction.
Tom Peters on Servant Leadership
Organizations exist to serve. Period. Leaders live to serve. Period