Five Necessary Attitudes of a Servant Leader 85

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Five Necessary Attitudes of a Servant Leader 85

Five Necessary Attitudes of a Servant Leader 85
Five Necessary Attitudes of a Servant Leader 85

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servant leadership: “It means that ‘servant’ is a fundamental, essential, continuing characteristic of a servant-lea der. If we are going to be servant-leaders, we need to start by being servants. That must be our true nature. That must be who we really are” (Keith, 2010). The main motivating factor for servant leaders is to serve first, and this is what distinguishes it from other forms of leadership. The leader’s attitude is that “I am the leader, therefore I serve” rather than “I am the leader, therefore I lead” (Sendjaya and Sarros, 2002). Servant leaders operate differently than other leaders. Their approach helps create a positive environment in the organization, adding to workers’ job satisfaction and commitment to the organization (Jaramillo et al., 2009).

As a servant leader one does not force people to follow but walks among them and moves in a direction that can unite all in a common vision.

When Greenleaf first introduced the servant leadership concept, religious groups readily identified with the approach, recognizing the core principles of service and community development as scriptural values as well as recognizing, of course, that Jesus served as the best example of servant leadership. Many non-religious not-for-profit organizations also embraced the servant leadership style due to its emphasis on service and the development of purposeful, passionate communities within organizational ranks. Many business leaders, though, found it challenging, even puzzling, to develop the skills and, most importantly, the attitudes of servant leadership. However, as numerous scholars began writing about servant leadership, and as leaders slowly explored the advantages of serving their employees rather than directing them, this new leadership style began to permeate mainstream management techniques even within the business arena (Kelly, 2010).

Transforming from conventional leader to servant leader is not a simple task. It requires a conscious effort to change one’s way of thinking, acting, and reacting. According to Autry (2001), it is important to realize that servant leadership is not a spiritual concept, but a way of “Being.” The five most important ways of Being are to be authentic, vulnerable, accepting, present, and useful – making it easier for leaders to develop an attitude of service.

A vital prerequisite to servant leadership is credibility, which is the foundation of leadership. People must believe in their leaders and know that they are worthy of trust. To build credibility leaders must be honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent (Kouzes and Posner, 2007). Leaders who put their organization and people before themselves and don’t lead from the top are true servant leaders. They listen, have empathy, help people heal, know the value of learning, possess foresight, are persuasive and flexible, lead with a vision, work hard to gain trust, are passionate about helping their people progress and reach their potential, and work hard to build a community within their organization (Burrell and Grizzell, 2010). These skills, behaviors, and attitudes set leaders apart as servants who recognize the empowerment of their people as an important goal.

Servant leaders have a vision for the future. They communicate the desired direction of the organization with regard to its mission, values, and beliefs. Servant leaders break down this vision into small attainable goals that accumulate to their inspiring “big picture,” maintaining the progress of people and the organization at its core (Vinod and Sudhakar, 2011).

The servant leadership style has been compared to other leadership approaches such as charismatic and transformational leadership as well as leader-member exchange, but what differentiates servant leadership is the moral objective of serving others (Mayer et al..


2008; Barbuto and Wheeler, 2006; Graham, 1991). Discussing the effectiveness of servant leadership. Smith et al. (2004) argue that a servant leadership style is better suited for a more static business environment that has a stable external context, not for dynamic fast paced environments. However, Searle and Barbuto (2011) propose that the adoption of servant leadership adds to the ethical, moral behavior in any organization in any environment as it supports positive behavior on both micro-and macro-levels.

An early criticism of the servant leadership concept as a philosophical theory involved sparse empirical research to advocate its effectiveness in an organizational setting. Servant leadership “lacks sufficient scientific evidence to justify its widespread acceptance at this point in time” (Russell and Stone, 2002). Since then a number of models have been developed to test the effectiveness of servant leadership. Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) developed and validated a scale for measuring servant leadership behavior identifying five dimensions: 1) altruistic calling; 2) emotional healing; 3) wisdom; 4) persuasive mapping; and 5) organizational stewardship. Their results indicated servant leadership can produce increases in subordinates’ organizational commitment, community citizenship behavior, and in-role performance.

Liden et al. (2008) developed a multi- dimensional measure of servant leadership by identifying nine dimensions:

1. Emotional healing – the act of showing sensitivity to others’ personal concerns;

2. Creating value for the community – a conscious, genuine concern for helping the community;

3. Conceptual skills – possessing the knowledge of the organization and tasks at hand so as to be in a position to effectively support and assist others, especially immediate followers;

4. Empowering – encouraging and facilitating others, especially immediate followers, in identifying and solving problems, as well as determining when and how to complete work tasks;

5. Helping subordinates grow and succeed – demonstrating genuine concern for others’ career growth and development by providing support and mentoring;

6. Putting subordinates first – using actions and words to make it clear to others (especially immediate followers) that satisfying their work needs is a priority. (Supervisors who practice this principle will often break from their own work to assist subordinates with problems they are facing with their assigned duties);

7. Behaving ethically – interacting openly, fairly and honestly with others;

8. Relationships – the act of making a genuine effort to know, understand, and support others in the organization, with an emphasis on building long-term relationships with immediate followers; and

9. Servanthood – a way of being marked by one’s self-categorization and desire to be characterized by others as someone who serves others first, even when self-sacrifice is required.

Additional empirical work on servant leadership has been carried out (Russell and Stone, 2002; Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, Chonko, and Roberts, 2008; Sendjaya et al., 2008). Additionally, it is interesting to note that when describing his level-5 leadership concept and the qualities of a “Good to Great” leader, Collins (2001) observes, “Self-efficacy, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” These level-5 leader qualities relate well to those of a servant leader.

It is evident that effective organizational leadership is enhanced by developing a clear understanding and thorough adoption of

Five Necessary Attitudes of a Servant Leader 87

service qualities. When compared to other leadership styles, servant leadership can be seen to involve similar skills and behaviors. However, servant leadership requires a particular set of attitudes towards one’s colleagues. The leader sees him/herself not at the top of the pyramid, but in a position within the pyramid. As a servant leader one does not force people to follow but walks among them and moves in a direction that can unite all in a common vision. A servant leader listens and comprehends, refraining from the constant issuance of orders.

Servant leadership is not just a management style but also a set of attitudes that need to be developed by leaders who choose to adopt it. There is a certain frame of mind that must exist for a leader to act as a servant and be successful at managing the organization and people who depend upon him/her. From vast practice and abundant research it is evident that effective leaders must master a very wide set of skills, behaviors, and attitudes. The encouraging news is that leadership skills, behaviors, and attitudes are learnable and adoptable (Maxwell, 2007; Drucker, 2006; Kouzes and Posner, 2002).

The purpose of this paper then is to identify and explore five important attitudes that an individual needs to adopt in order to become an effective servant leader:

1) visioning isn’t everything, but it’s the beginning of everything;

2) listening is hard work requiring a major investment of personal time and effort – and it is worth every ounce of energy expended;

3) my job involves being a talent scout and committing to my staff’s success;

4) it is good to give away my power; and

5) I am a community builder.

Attitude #1: “Visioning isn’t everything, but it’s the beginning of everything.”