What Really Is Servant Leadership and How To Be a Different One

Servant Leadership is a topic that has attracted much attention over the past several years, and seems to be ‘the new black’ in the leadership narrative.

I’m concerned, however, that the notion is being pushed as another ‘flavour of the month’ promulgated by self-prescribed academic leadership experts with little or no demonstrated leadership experience in delivering superlative results.

From Google: “Servant leadership is a leadership style and philosophy whereby an individual interacts with others—either in a management or fellow employee capacity—to achieve authority rather than power.”

As a leader, the end game of serving is NOT about achieving authority; the reason you decide to serve rather than command others or exert your hierarchical power in the organization is NOT because it’s a more effective way to achieve authority over others.

There have been other versions of leadership offered in the past that offered an alternative to command-and-control leadership.

Tom Peters talked about ‘Management by Wandering Around’—MBWA—as a way to get leaders closer to employees doing the work, with the objective of getting leaders out of their offices and making them more aware of the issues going on in the workplace.

I’ve always held the view that, even though it was a significant improvement over the traditional approach to leadership, MBWA simply didn’t go far enough. It was a good tactic to get leaders out in the workplace and exposed to the everyday realities employees faced, but it lacked clarity of purpose and focus to make it an effective instrument to enhance company performance.

I took it further by breaking away from the common notion of MBWA and creating a completely new—and audacious—leadership approach which I dubbed Leadership by SERVING Around—LBSA.

The purpose of LBSA is to increase the effectiveness of executing the Strategic Game Plan of the organization.

My purpose in practicing LBSA is very clear: it’s to improve the EXECUTION of the organization’s Strategic Game Plan.

LBSA is NOT a leadership ‘style’ designed for the leader to gain more authority; it’s a means to enable employees to perform their functions more effectively and, in so doing, take EXECUTION to a higher level.

”How can I help?” defines LBSA.

The fundamental ingredient in LBSA is the question “How can I help?”.

LBSA is not, as espoused by the ‘wandering around’ method, to observe what’s going on in the workplace and to spot dysfunction which requires intervention and eventual remediation.

LBSA is a PERSONAL ACT, not an organizational one; the leader is asking how they can PERSONALLY help the individual they are engaging with at the moment.

It’s a STRATEGIC MOVE targeted at determining what’s preventing people from executing the business plan of the organization.

LBSA is a ’CLEANSE-THE-INSIDE’ tactic to eliminate the internal barriers—rules, policies, procedures—that get in the way of employees doing their jobs effectively in executing the business plan of the organization and in delivering amazing service experiences to customers.

I ask “What’s preventing you from ‘saying Yes’ to our customers?” and “What’s preventing you from doing your job more easily and effectively?”

And, it’s an opportunity to practice FINGERPRINT LEADERSHIP Coaching allowing the leader to personally coach employees in the appropriate behaviour to pristine execution of the business plan.

Serving leaders don’t serve because they want an easier way to assume authority and they don’t serve because it’s being promoted by the so-called leadership experts as a new style.

They serve because it drives EXECUTION and lifts the performance of the organization.

Related: Why Rare Qualities in People Result in Amazing Careers