Leadership has been a hot topic for years. And within the past three to five years I’ve been hearing the term “servant leadership” and how it is important for leaders to adopt this style of leadership in order to take organizations to the next level.
When you are a solo entrepreneur, it can be easy not to think too much about leadership skills. However, as your Authorneering business grows, those skills become more and more critical. A friend of mine recently was lamenting how hard it was for her to transition into the CEO mindset and role as her business grew. She has a strong “be of service” mindset but was struggling with how to apply that to her role as a CEO.
Her struggle made me think more about servant leadership and so I did some research.
What is servant leadership?
First, what does the term “servant leadership” mean. According to Wikipedia, servant leadership is a style or philosophy of leadership where the leader’s main goal is to serve the team, to support them in reaching the overall team’s goals. They often also serve as a coach to their team members.
This is in contrast to the traditional leadership philosophy, where the main goal is to help the company or organization thrive. Sometimes, this ends up being at the expense of the team and its members.
The thinking behind the servant leadership movement is that when the individuals that provide the services for an organization thrive, then the organization as a whole will thrive, as well.
Omar L. Harris and The Servant Leader’s Manifesto
Eventually, my research led me to Omar L. Harris and his book The Servant Leader’s Manifesto. In his book, Harris shares his take on the movement toward the servant leadership style. He asserts that the key characteristics of servant leaders include:
- Empathy, which allows leaders to foster connections with their stakeholders.
- Humility, which helps them solve problems rather than be a know-it-all.
- Openness, so that they seek input from others to solve problems.
- Engagement, which helps them keep the whole team engaged in their work.
- Trustworthiness, which empowers leaders to effectively navigate issues with team support.
Harris bases his philosophy on more than 20 years of global pharmaceutical leadership experience as General Manager of GSK Indonesia and working at Pfizer, Merck, Allergan, and others.
I was able to get a few minutes of his time to answer some questions about servant leadership and his book via email.
Carma Spence: Why did you write The Servant Leader’s Manifesto?
Omar L. Harris: My main personal goal for the book is to help people evolve, to end toxic leadership practices, and eradicate the boss archetype from organizations. Improving employee engagement is deeply personal to me. I have seen and experienced the damage that toxic leadership does to people every day. And with only 15-30% of the global workforce engaged at work — it’s time to start talking about this well-known problem and advance to practical solutions.
CS: What do you mean by the boss archetype and toxic leadership?
OLH: In the past, top-down hierarchies worked in a more homogenous work environment where people’s values, motivators, and backgrounds were mostly similar, and the work was performed in silos. However, the workforce has changed. Today, hierarchies are flatter. The workforce is highly diverse, and collaboration is how work gets done. In this new, what I call Leadership 3.0, world, the top-down hierarchy is crumbling in favor of a more collaborative approach that puts an intense focus on understanding and deriving brilliance from individuals and teams. Servant leadership is a response to the changes in how work is performed today.
CS: What is the new role a Servant Leader fulfills?
OLH: The role of leadership generally is to influence others in a (hopefully) positive direction. Unfortunately, leaders are often bound today by a top-down hierarchy that limits their ability to leverage their influence. Therefore, they resort to positional power to get things done. Positional power leads to toxic leadership practices that burn out employees, disengage them, and ultimately lead to lower productivity and worse outcomes.
The new emphasis on servant leadership is the response to toxic leadership that leverages authority vs. power to influence in the right way. Servant leaders invert the top-down hierarchy and place themselves in a support capacity to the managers and ultimately value-driving employees in the organization.
In this inverted hierarchy, problems, issues, and performance barriers roll down to the servant leaders to solve with solutions and rewards. And instead of taking credit for the success, it is passed up to the employees who are the value creators. Servant leaders leverage humility, intense will, compassion, consistency, and positive psychology to create trusting environments that drive high performance by augmenting employee engagement and productivity.
The concept of servant leadership was developed in 1970 by Robert K Greenleaf. It has become even more important today.
CS: How do Servant Leaders unite their teams?
OLH: Servant leaders focus on what we have in common, including shared values, motivations, and objectives. At work, we are unified by purpose. When the purpose is bigger than a financial objective, more people can directly participate in the achievement of the shared purpose. Servant leaders are extremely ambitious beyond simply achieving returns for shareholders alone. They practice stakeholder capitalism and craft a vision that improves conditions for shareholders, employees, customers, the community, and the environment.
CS: The Servant Leader’s Manifesto is primarily aimed at managers, supervisors, and anyone considered middle management. What do you think an Authorneer could get out of reading it?
OLH: The book outlines six principles of servant leadership for developing effective teams. As an Authorneer starts building a team around him- or herself, these principles will help them. Topics covered in the book include:
- How to wield the power of positive psychology.
- Why team talent outweighs individual talent every time, and how to unlock it.
- What love has to do with leadership.
CS: Are there any examples of servant leaders my readers might know?
OLH: I think they would recognize the names Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Elon Musk, and Bob Iger.
Servant Leadership and the Authorneer
When you first start out as an authorneer, you are mostly on your own, hiring freelancers, contractors, and vendors to help with specific tasks. However, as your business grows, so will your need to build a team around you. That’s when servant leadership can serve you well.
I recently witnessed an example of servant leadership in an entrepreneurial business at its best. The creator of the business was the face of the business and did most of the visioning, creating, and delivery. However, she had a team of people to support her. The most prominent was her right-hand gal. Although ostensibly an employee, she was a vital part of the business. The two of them would often brainstorm ideas to grow the business.
As you grow your authorneering business, you too will find a key “employee” who becomes almost a partner in your business. Don’t be afraid to empower your team. When you all come together to create your vision, the power of purpose will drive your business forward.