Servant leadership is a concept first popularized by Robert Greenleaf. He applied the concept of service to corporate leadership, corporate governance and corporate mission. The concept seeks to replace hierarchical styles with an emphasis on collaboration, trust, empathy and the ethical use of power. This does not mean that leaders are not called upon to render unpopular decisions or that the responsibility of making decisions is removed from leadership. Instead it indicates that leadership works much more collaboratively (especially in times of change or uncertainty) by involving those impacted by decisions in the discovery and decision making process.
Servant leadership is also expressed in what Ronald Heifetz calls an exercise of adaptive leadership i.e., pushing decisions to those who have responsibility for executing on the decision and realizing that there are two kinds of problems. There are technical problems in which the problem is defined and the solution is known and adaptive problems in which the problem is unclear and the solution is not known. Servant leadership or adaptive leadership is especially important in facing adaptive problems. Servant leadership is in essence a commitment to serve others rather than simply increasing ones own power.
Tony Baron, Ph.D. President of Servant Leader Institute at Datron World Communications identifies seven practices of servant leaders. (Source: http://www.forthesakeofothers.com/about/; Accessed 27 Oct 2010)
• Servant Leaders seek lasting change instead of system relief
• Servant Leaders create intimate relationships instead of dependent relationships
• Servant Leaders persevere with a non-anxious presence knowing that direct reaction, deliberate resistance and destructive rumors are evidences of one’s effectiveness
• Servant Leaders inspire personal responsibility instead of encouraging perceived victims
• Servant Leaders invest in motivated people instead of adapting to troubled people
• Servant Leaders see troubles as the heart of preexisting anxiety instead of seeing troubles as the origin of anxiety
• Servant Leaders live to the applause of one as opposed to the applause of many
The characteristics identified by Tony Baron affirm that servant leadership is not an abdication of responsibility (this is often how I hear the concept framed e.g., the concept becomes an excuse for not making hard decisions or executing well). It is a means of approaching the difficult decisions and challenges of leadership with concern for people but more than that a concern for their development in every facet of who they are knowing that as people develop and become more engaged the strategic and financial goals of the company are engaged in such a way that results are propelled to new levels of success.