On Servant Leadership

On Servant Leadership

Steve Polo

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

‘If you want to be a leader, find yourself a parade and stand in front of it!’ – Pogo (Walt Kelly)

I came across this photo with an explanation about how this wolf pack is organized. I don’t know if this is true, but if not, it should be, and we can all take a lesson. Here’s what they said about the photo:

The three lead wolves are sick or old – they set the pace for the pack – and the pack won’t leave them behind. The next five are some of the strong ones and are there to meet potential conflict or opportunity.

Next comes the remainder of the pack, then the five strongest, and last, trailing the pack, is the Alpha, the pack’s leader – watching and protecting.

When I read this to people in our office, they said “Too bad humans don’t work like this!”, and it started me thinking….

In this wolf pack the leader is behind everyone – not in front! Imagine current leaders and CEOs deciding that they would be more successful by leading from the back – supporting and serving their teams – rather than taking a place up-front. The term for this leadership approach is called ‘servant leadership’ – and it’s not new. Lao Tzu talked about it in the 5th c. BC!

‘A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.’ –  Lao Tzu

The most famous modern servant leadership example comes from Robert K. Greenleaf and his 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader. Since then, there have been a numerous books and articles written about ‘leading from the back’ or ‘servant leadership’.

Servant leadership differs from conventional models in that the leader seeks to serve and develop their employees (not order them around), and there is a fair amount of research that validates the power of the servant leadership model. Adam Grant’s research in his book Give and Take, How Helping Others Drives Our Success, found that leaders who practice this approach are more highly regarded by employees (i.e. more engaged!) and are more productive!

If you’re not trying it, consider your answer to the following questions:

Do people in your organization have to ‘ask permission’ to do their jobs? If so, you’re stifling initiative and innovation – who can afford that? Servant leaders encourage risk-taking as a path to development and new ideas

Does everyone in your organization have to be ‘visible and vocal’ to get promoted or rewarded? If so, only those that make the most noise get ahead – not necessarily those that make the most sense – causing some of the best (non-visible) people to disengage. Servant leaders spend time getting to know their people – listening to their ideas and helping develop their strengths.

Do many of the people in your organization care more about their individual success than their team or the company success? If so, you’re on your way to creating a culture of competition – not collaboration. Servant leaders build future servant leaders at all levels and thereby build a culture of mutual support and community.

If your found yourself answering ‘yes’ to the first part of each of these questions, (and you’d rather have said ‘no’!) you might want to learn more about this concept.

So, maybe if you want to be a more effective leader, find a great group of people and head to the back of the line.

I’m right behind you!

Steve Polo

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