What is a servant leader? It's not complicated really. If you see people as a means to serve you, then you are not a servant leader. I would call you a manager or simply a boss. If you view your role as a leader to empower others to become better at what they do, to achieve greater levels of skill and ability, and become better, more productive people in the process, then you are a servant leader.
A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. The key differences between servant leaders and more autocratic styles can be summarized as follows:
Motives. A servant leader uses their power to develop followers and growing the company through the development of the full potential of the workforce, rather than using their power to control and exploit employees.
Preferences. Servant leaders prefer inspirational and transformational power, because they seek to influence and transform followers, rather than using positional, political and coercive powers to control subordinates.
Outcome. If we define power as the ability to influence followers, then servant leadership is more effective, because “the arm of control is short, while the reach of influence has no limits”.
Orientation. Servant leaders are sensitive to individual and situational needs, because they exist to serve others; therefore, they are relation-oriented and situational, rather than being only concerned about their own authority and power.
Skill level. Servant leadership requires a higher level of leadership ability and skills, because it takes more interpersonal skills and positive inner qualities to inspire and influence workers. On the other hand, authoritarian leaders only need obedience and coercive power to enforce compliance and conformity from their subordinates.
Attitude to vulnerability. Servant leaders are willing to risk making themselves vulnerable by trusting and empowering others, rather than being afraid of vulnerability.
Attitude to humility. Servant leaders view themselves as servants and stewards, and voluntarily humble themselves in order to serve others, rather than blaming others for failure and claiming credit for success.
Lean organizations need leaders who know how to serve their people. A servant leader -- one who wants to serve first and lead second -- strives to create a work environment in which people can truly express these deepest of inner drives. Servant leadership entails a deep belief that people are the greatest asset any organization has, and to nurture their individual growth becomes the basis for all organizational development. That growth goes far beyond the limited dimension of financial benefit -- it dives into our core motivations as people.
People want to be engaged and also have some level of control over their environment. A servant leader recognizes that the people doing the work generally have the best ideas about how to improve the processes they participate in. Through tools like rapid improvement events and PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) suggestion systems, servant leaders practice participatory decision-making, empowering employees to be innovators and co-creators in positive change. Such leaders are also enablers; they spend a significant amount of time at the workplace, making direct observations, and then striving to create systemic improvements that add value to the work of their employees.
To be a great Lean manager, you need to be a servant leader. Wouldn’t you agree?