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Leadership is part of human behavior, where individuals are expected to rise above others and become a symbol of direction which others follow to achieve success. Studying leadership theories helps give a better insight into the science of leadership allowing individuals to become better leaders and players. Studying of leadership begins with understanding what leadership consists of and one major method of being able to learn leadership is through interviewing or discussing leadership with people in positions of leadership. Such experiences can assist individuals to begin to plan on how to improve themselves to be leaders in society today.
The concept of servant leadership was brought forth by Robert Greenleaf in 1977. Greenleaf used the term servant leadership to describe a leader who at first aspired to become a leader first and upon achieving a leadership role would perform acts of service (Frick, 2004). However, the concept is much deeper than individuals. In building a more caring community, organizations and trustees are expected to play the role of servants. Greenleaf found that traditional managers were different from successful ones who placed service to employees, customers, and the community as peak priority.
In traditional management, the organization comes first, but in servant leadership, a manager puts the needs of his followers before the organization making it possible to accomplish the organizations goals. Spears expanded on the theory further giving his explanation of a servant leader as one who displayed ten characteristics in their leadership style. These ten characteristics include awareness, listening, stewardship, empathy, conceptualization, healing, persuasion, foresight, growth, and community building. These characteristics bring about a proper working environment that promotes teamwork, nurturing and value.
Understanding servant leadership and practicing it are however different. As Wheatley argues using the Schrodinger’s Cat theory, by observing something we tend not to get the same results we expected since the knowledge of something should be sufficient to allow us to understand it but curiosity overtakes us, and we desire to criticize or accept the facts through our observation (2011). Thus, by conducting interviews on the existence of servant leadership, we both criticize its existence and gain more knowledge about the concept that allows us to gain our understanding of leadership.
The interviews conducted one on the head nurse of a hospital and the other on the Dean of an institution, both prove the practice of servant leadership in organizations today but display different approaches to servant leadership in both cases. The concept of servant leadership is emphasized in health care, education, civil service and business among other organizations. The application of the concept, however, differs in each organization or institution. Through these interviews, it is possible to understand servant leadership in institutional education management and health care organization.
In each interview, I posed the question of how the two leaders defined their leadership style as it relates to servant leadership. The Dean’s answer was more towards the desire to create inter-personal relationships through communication. The nurse’s answer was more towards the role of servitude and how to cope with being a daily servant. Leaders are always expected to grow and take on bigger roles hence the question of how each leader had felt they grew as leaders. Each of them felt they had developed displaying the nature of leaders and the characteristics of servant leadership of growth. Servant leaders believe that individuals display intrinsic value that surpasses their contributions and hence desire growth in individuals and the institution.
Each leader was asked about the characteristics they believed a servant leader displayed. The Dean was unfamiliar with Spears characteristics of servant leadership was like Greenleaf believed a servant leader should be a strong leader first then serve through selfless and being empathetic to others. The nurse was more familiar with servant leadership and was proof of the existence of servant leadership in today’s society being able to mention all of Spear’s characteristics of a servant leader albeit through referencing.
Stewardship is expected from servant leaders who hold their positions for the greater good of others. Through asking the leaders questions on how their co-managers and employees viewed their leadership style and how they handled relationships with them I desired to establish the concept of stewardship in the leaders. Both were modest about how their leadership was viewed by others and believed in delegating duties through considering the abilities (mental and physical) and roles.
Leaders always come across obstacles in their leadership and are expected to make decisions that may seem unpopular to others. By posing the question of the advantages and disadvantages, whether servant leadership prohibits them from being better leaders and the rewards of servant leadership to each of the leaders I intended to establish whether the leaders viewed servant leadership as a disadvantage or an advantage in their leadership. Each leader stated strong support to the leadership theory quick to mention that playing the role of a servant as a leader did not prohibit them from leading.
New Business Realities
One of the driving forces shaping business and society in new business realities in the 21st Century is socio-cultural expectations translating to the creation of meaningful relationships. Servant leadership leads to leaders better understanding the needs of their employees and the community as a whole. Managers are expected to cater for large groups of people and through acting as a servant allow them to bridge the divide that prevents communication and relationships that enable the achievement of an organization’s objectives.
Leaders who build inter-personal relationships strengthen communication allowing for better understanding of their followers. A better work environment is also created when individuals work together rather than when working individually. A good leader should be able to bring their followers together and have them work towards achieving the goals. This allows for an organization to function efficiently and save on the time employees work.
The interviews asked the leaders on the characteristics they believed a servant leader displayed. Their feedback revealed the characteristics that each felt they portrayed as a servant leader. The Dean believed a servant leader should be selfless, kind, sympathetic but strong which displayed his understanding of servant leadership as being able to come to a level and communicating with students but still showing a no-nonsense attitude when the situation required. The nurse cited Spear’s characteristics of a servant leader, something taught to nurse leaders illustrating that nurses are expected to be natural servant leaders and try to emulate the ten characteristics.
Empathy is the habit of caring for and identifying with, honoring others and understanding the way others view the world. In leadership, leaders are expected to have a self-other unity which means they should understand themselves and others as a complementary unity. Leaders should also be able to gain the stakeholders view recognizing the dignity and legitimacy. Leaders are professionals who display maturity intellectually and emotionally which is why leaders are empathetic and consider ethics in their relationship and leadership style.
A servant-leader should endeavor to understand and empathize with others it is important for a leader to recognize the uniqueness assuming the good intent of fellow employees refusing to reject their humanity even when criticizing or commending their performance. A strong servant-leader is one who has mastered the skill of empathetic listening allowing them to come down to a level of an employee but find solutions that will assist them to work efficiently without any obstacles.
During the interview, I discovered how the nurse cares for families of patients having to reassure them whenever the need arose since health care does not always work as intended. The Dean also empathizes with students having to speak with them whenever they had issues and having to rally students together whenever a cause affected one or many of them. This illustrates that servant leaders are required to work through understanding the needs of their followers and listening to them and being able to make decisions that would not show favor but would be understanding to workers.
The interviews I conducted were very helpful in allowing me to understand servant leadership theory and how to be a leader. The theory of servant leadership is difficult to pin down on managers today with most business organisations focused on performance rather than employee satisfaction but most successful leaders today are quoted in utilising servant leadership theory in their management.
I found that during my interviews, pitching questions that would bring out the inter-personal relationship between leaders and employees would meet an answer that would show that the leader feels the need to be more traditional as a leader. However, when asking questions directly about servant leadership, I noted that the leaders would give answers that were more in line with the characteristics outlined in servant leadership by Spears. This proves that the traditional form of management still exists in today’s organization and that servant leadership even when emphasized or taught only an extension of traditional management with the emphasis on service to others.
I believe that in conducting an interview next time, I would be less professional with my questions and have questions that stress more on the leader’s experiences with leadership rather than how they lead and what they view about leadership. By interviewing the leaders, I got an understanding of the importance of charting a plan for my life and the importance of wanting the community and other to grow to be able to achieve my goals and those of the organization in future.
Greenleaf argued that leadership is not taught in institutions or rather institutions do not prepare students for leadership. By conducting the interview, I was able to gain a better understanding of leadership and the importance of allowing those with the potential to lead to be given an opportunity to lead. Servant leadership as described by Greenleaf offers better insight into servant leadership as it explains it as the desire of a person in a position of power to lead. This explanation is better than narrowing down servant leadership into various characteristics as Spears explained which would disqualify the leaders who lack most of the characteristics from being considered as servant leaders.
Servant leadership is necessary for allowing for leaders to better understand other while leading gaining an understanding of their followers and being able to put themselves in their position. This understanding allows leaders to be able to allow individuals to grow nad identify their unique abilities and utilize them in roles that would allow for an organization to be productive and achieve its goals.
I believe that servant leadership through my experience should be emphasized in institutions of learning and organizations where leaders are expected to lead scores of employees. By interviewing the leaders, I gained more knowledge into the lives of leaders that allowed me to understand how they viewed themselves and their style of leadership. This information helps to show the daily issues that a leader deals with and the manner in which the leaders gain or are rewarded through leading.
I recommend that students in learning institutions should be awarded more opportunities that would allow them to gain a better understanding of leadership and bring out those with the potential to lead. By allowing natural leaders to stand out from a young age and allowing them to gain an understanding of leadership, it allows their peers to be able to emulate them as role models and have people to whom they can turn to for advice and functions which they feel higher authorities may address better if leaders approached them.
In conclusion, servant leadership is a leadership theory that builds on the traditional form of leadership that required managers to place the organization first. Servant leadership, however, provides a more personal approach to leadership and allows for those not in leadership positions to have their needs understood by leaders. Interviewing leaders on leadership also allows for individuals to understand leadership behavior and the importance of desiring to be leaders in society.
- Frick, D. M. (2004). Robert K. Greenleaf: A life of servant leadership. San Francisco, Calif: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
- Greenleaf, R. K., & Spears, L. C. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press.
- Wheatley, M. J. (2011). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world. Readhowyouwant.com Ltd. Pp 46-79.