I’ve spent 21 years in the military, serving as both an enlisted member and an officer. I’ve seen “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” of leadership styles.
However, the most worthwhile and effective styles of leadership I’ve seen is the servant leader. I have read many books on the servant leader style, and I believe it is compatible with both military and civilian organizations. The following points highlight my perspective on servant leadership:
- Serve first. These leaders choose to be a servant first. They seek to involve others in decision-making, consistently display ethical and caring behavior, and strive to improve the quality of organizational life.
- Clear vision. Every leader should develop and communicate a clear vision for the organization. The vision provides a framework for goals and gives structure during times of crisis.
- Values. These are the nonnegotiable principles that define the character of the individual and organization. Shared values are essential for keeping the organization working together with purpose. Example: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
- Listen and learn. Servant leaders take time to intently listen to others. They want to see and hear the nonverbal and verbal. They know they cannot get this from email, texts or tweets.
- Adapt. Today’s leaders deal with a diverse and multigenerational population. They must approach and motivate personnel in different ways. They must adapt to meet a variety of management challenges.
- Plan for succession. Servant leaders cultivate the personal and professional growth of their colleagues. Motivated by concern for subordinates and the future of the organization, they are aware of their responsibility to mentor tomorrow’s leaders.
- Do as you say. Servant leaders live by the same standards they set for others to follow knowing that their credibility hangs on their consistency.
- Cultivate creativity. Saying, “That’s how we have always done it,” is a dead-end. Leaders must be willing to see change as good and to promote the expression of ideas. Subordinates should be seen as potential resources.
- Know your personnel. Servant leaders make an effort to ask their personnel about their likes, dislikes, family and interests. It’s not always about business. Teams are built on relationships.
- Relax. To consistently perform at a high level, leaders must live a balanced life. They take their job seriously, but also take time to recharge.
As Ken Blanchard wrote in The Servant Leader, leadership is an, “influence process — anytime you are trying to influence the thoughts and actions of others toward goal accomplishment in either their personal or professional life you are engaging in leadership.”
So whether you are a flight commander, an airman or a parent teaching a child to read, you can influence someone.
You can be a leader. How will you lead?