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Why Servant Leadership Can Serve You Good

In his essay 1970, “The Servant as Leader,” Robert K. Greenleaf first introduced the concept of Servant Leadership. Many thought leaders have used this concept to redefine and shake up traditional power hierarchies. It is popular among entrepreneurs, tech, and nonprofit leaders, and its proponents say it increases engagement and productivity. But what, exactly, is a servant leader?

Servant leaders, Greenleaf says, prioritize the growth and well-being of their employees, clients and communities over personal achievement or power: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.”

So, how, exactly, does one become a servant leader? And when is the best time to use servant leadership?

Servant leadership has 10 main principles: listening, empathy, healing, self-awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to growth, and community. You can read more about the principles here.  

What it comes down to is shifting your perspective to one of service to your staff, your values and your organization. This occasionally requires you to relinquish power and to focus on potential, not productivity, of individuals.

You do this first by asking and listening. Ask your employees what they are passionate about and ask for their input. Work with struggling with staff to figure out what is not working on a structural, cultural and personal level.

Also, when your team talks, listen. Practice engaged listening techniques and view questions from your employees as growth opportunities for both of you—not challenges or interference. Your door should be open to your team, literally and figuratively.

Another practice servant leaders have perfected is trust. A servant leader builds trust by being trustworthy. They are respectful and inclusive. They act with integrity. They enthusiastically encourage those around them. And they are humble about their own roles.

If you are looking for a more mission-driven, team-centered approach, servant leadership may be for you. Servant leadership is appropriate at almost every leadership level. It is useful in building engaged and productive teams. And, servant leaders create other leaders, which is great for organizational growth.

However, servant leadership can lead to emotional burnout and difficulty seeing the bigger picture, especially when quick, unilateral decisions need to be made. In these situations, you may need to incorporate other styles into your toolbox.

To learn more about servant leadership, go directly to the source and check out Robert Greenleaf’s original essay. You can also check out his foundation for blog posts, resources or training opportunities.

A Fresh Start for the New Year

Whether 2020 was a good or bad year (or somewhere in between) for you, it can probably best be described as wild. This is especially true for businesses, which navigated a worldwide pandemic, a major social change movement, and significant disruptions to how we work and relate to one another.

However, now that 2021 is upon us, it is time to focus on ways to Thrive Now in the next 12 months.

First things first, start with what you have learned. Resist the urge to toss everything to do with 2020 in the trash. There are some valuable lessons you can take with you into the new year.

Did you learn how to better collaborate with your teams remotely or manage productivity in a remote environment? Maybe you tried a new marketing or branding tool, or you embraced continuous improvement skills. Perhaps you were inspired by social movements to learn how to become more sustainable, foster diversity, encourage civic engagement, and support your community.

Many business owners experienced personal growth this year as well. Some found ways to manage stress while managing a business and to practice meaningful self-care. Others took charge and created more positive workplaces or networked. Even if you did nothing new in this unprecedented year, you are still standing. There is value in assessing what got you this far.

(Do you need a refresher? Check out the NAWBO Iowa article archives that cover these topics and more.)

Now that you have decided what to keep, time to tidy up. Many new year’s traditions are related to making space and setting intentions for the new year. The new year is a perfect time for you to clean up your business practices too.

If you have not yet done so, go through files and contacts and notes and purge what you no longer need. Then do the same thing with tech and apps—especially after a year of trying out new technologies and tools. Finally, check to make sure your goals are still relevant (especially if you had a dramatic change in your work this year).

Finally, set yourself up to succeed this year. Set your resolutions, then put a plan in place to make them happen. Start with a to-do list and look for patterns to identify the big, fat, audacious goals you are working towards. Then identify smaller, sequential, and timely goals to help you achieve them.

Many nonprofits use a logic model, which breaks down your entire business into the outcomes you want to achieve, how you know you’ve achieved them, and what steps and resources you’ll need to take to get there.

This is a great time to start building the habits to support your goals. Start delegating and outsourcing and make planning part of your routine. Find something to learn and start learning. Start exploring how to take advantage of digital, from optimizing social media to automating your tasks.

Finally, do not minimize your personal goals at the expense of your business ones. Whatever your goals are (or whether you made them January first or started them long ago), they are just as important as the ones regarding inventory and sales. Goal-setting at home is practice for goal-setting at work and vice-versa. You are also demonstrating to your team that you value work-life balance, which is a critical element of a healthy workspace for everyone.

No one knows for sure what this year will bring. But it seems the advice, to “begin as you mean to go on,” is as appropriate in 2021 as it was when it was first given more than a century ago. If you start the year off by taking note of what you have learned, tossing out what does not serve you and setting goals with accountability and intention, you are likely to thrive this year. No matter what it brings.