10 Vital Characteristics of Servant Leaders

January 17, 2014 | Roger and Susie Engelau

Everyone’s had a bad experience with a boss.

You know what I’m talking about. The guy who micromanages everything.  Who changes the rules in the middle of the game.  Who yells and nitpicks. Who governs by fear, shame, and ridicule.

Leaders like that think they’re being effective, because their employees go out of their way to stay on the boss’s “good side.”  And it’s true that there is a kind of sick success that comes from that kind of “leadership.”  Trouble is, the success is always short-lived.  Instead of creating a loyal, engaged staff, you get people who are more invested in covering their backsides than in doing the right thing for your company.  Quality people leave as fast as they can.  And those who remain create a sort of unhappy, disjointed culture where no one’s really working together or passionate about what they’re doing.

I think it goes without saying at this point, but whatever you do, don’t be that boss.

In my last post [LINK], I discussed servant leadership—a leadership style that’s first about making sure your team knows you care about them before you care about what they can do for you.  Servant leadership builds a cohesive, loyal, hard-working, dedicated team.  It’s the kind of leadership that inspires greatness.

But what exactly does a servant leader look like?  Here are 10 vital things servant leaders do:

1.      Listen.  We think of leaders as those who speak well—who communicate clearly what they want and expect.  But servant leadership starts with listening. Really hear the feedback you get from team members and make sure they know they’ve been heard. Repeat back their questions and paraphrase their comments.

2.      Empathize. Servant leaders empathize with their team members.  They assume good intentions and make it clear that they understand their team members’ needs.

3.      Heal. This might seem like a surprising characteristic on a list of leadership qualities, but servant leaders facilitate healing and wholeness among their team.  In his essay, “The Servant as a Leader,” the founder of the servant leadership movement, Robert Greenleaf writes, “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between the servant-leader and led, is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share.” Search out problems and help people solve them.

4.      Be self-aware. Understand your own tendencies, flaws, and biases, and how they influence your leadership.  It also involves awareness of what’s actually happening in the company or culture so that you can help steer the ship in the right direction.

5.      Persuade.  As opposed to traditional leadership models where people are expected to get in line simply because they’ve been told to, as a servant leader, you use persuasion in order to get the organic buy-in of your team.

6.      Conceptualize. As a servant leader, dream big.  Have a vision, a Why  that’s big enough to inspire you and others.

7.      Practice foresight. Foresight is the ability to predict the likely outcome of various situations.  It comes through a compelling mix of intuition, experience, and logic.  This is an elusive skill, but as you develop it, you’ll find incredible results.

8.      Be a steward.  Stewardship means protecting and being responsible for something.  As a leader, it’s your job to protect and be responsible for the people in your care. It’s a trust-based role; one that’s vital to being an effective servant leader.

9.      Commit to the growth of people.  As a servant leader, you must be invested in the growth of your people—not just in terms of how they can help you make more money, but in the sense of their own holistic growth as human beings.

10.  Build community.People thrive in community.  As a servant leader, you see your company as more than just a business—it’s a community, a place where people can feel supported, understood, engaged, and productive.

Can’t you just feel the difference between a servant leader and the boss I described at the first of this post?  Wouldn’t you love to work for someone like this?  Honestly, who wouldn’t?

If you haven’t yet, make a commitment to be a servant leader and to develop the qualities on this list.  When you do, you’ll discover that you capture not just your employees’ time, but their hearts and minds as well.

And in the end, that’s what it takes to make greatness a reality.