08th October 2021

Book in Focus

Servant Leadership

Attitudes, Skills and Behaviours

By Larry W. Boone

Servant Leadership

Servant leaders do many special things for their organizations. One of their major contributions is setting the stage for other people to succeed. Because high numbers of followers achieve success, servant-led organizations accomplish great things.

This book details the attitudes servant leaders adopt, the skills they develop and apply, and, especially, the behaviors they practice over time to create an environment for others to succeed. It demonstrates the way servant leaders establish and maintain a supportive, facilitative climate where people strive together to enact a compelling shared vision of a better future, where people simultaneously accomplish tasks and build relationships, and where leaders empower others to meet high expectations, while holding them accountable for their performance and behaviors.

Of great interest to the book is how servant leaders affect others through who they are and what they do. That is, how are followers’ satisfaction, commitment, productivity and creativity improved through the environment servant leaders create? This is where servant leadership shines. This environment is applicable to the workplace, the community, the congregation, the family, the sports team, or whatever particular unit may be guided by the servant leader.

Creating such a climate is attractive to many leaders. It’s not hard to imagine that it should be. It is an environment where people “want to” work, instead of feeling like they “have to” work. It’s an environment that supports participants’ dedication to their mission, personal fulfilment, pride in accomplishment, sense of responsibility for achieving results, and willingness to create new methods and relationships.

However, acting as a servant leader for one’s enterprise, agency, community, family or team is not a simple matter. It’s a way of behaving one adopts over the long term, and is individual as well as organizational. Servant leadership is based on a shared vision for a better future, shared values, both personal and institutional, and productive relationships. The servant leadership style can be learned and applied by people who possess the intent to change, grow, and improve. That is, servant leadership involves the type of person you are, as well as the style you apply to lead others.

Concept Development

Ideas about leading and managing taken from writers such as Peter Drucker, Steven Covey, Robert Greenleaf, James Kouzes and Barry Posner, James Hunter, John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lencioni, David McAllister-Wilson, Nancy Ortberg, James Autry, and James Sipe and Don Frick led to the best classroom and workshop experiences I enjoyed in three decades of teaching, training, and consulting. Referencing the feedback I received from thousands of organizational practitioners and students, these leadership ideas also affected many others in very significant and positive ways.

Observing the reactions of workshop colleagues and students, I recognized the servant leadership concepts and practices they found to be most useful, inspiring, and implementable. These are the concepts readers will find in this book. Also, with the assistance of those I engaged in conference rooms, training rooms and classrooms, I have organized these concepts and practices into the categories of servant leader attitudes, skills, and behaviors.

For the purposes of this article, servant leader attitudes will be identified and summarized. They are key to understanding the servant leader concept. Skills and behaviors will be listed to provide for the reader some additional information about topics covered in this book. Detailed discussions, examples, and cases, as well as Servant Leader Tips and Reflection Questions, are included throughout the book.

Attitudes

Attitudes are determinants of behavior. That is, our attitudes have a significant effect on the way we respond to people, objects, and situations. Additional factors affect our behavior, but attitudes play a key role in determining how we act.

ATTITUDES           >             BEHAVIORS                  >                OUTCOMES

about self and others                toward others                                        of relationships

Ten attitudes that coincide with servant leadership are identified and discussed in the book. You can tell whether or not servant leadership will be natural for you, or at least comfortable for application, if you have (or can readily adopt) these ten attitudes.

  1. Think and say “We” not “I”:

Servant leaders are other-centered. They place the needs, desires and contributions of others above their own. Therefore, they seldom say “I,” but tend to use the inclusive “we” when referring to efforts they lead. In communications, the terms “we,” “us,” and “our” are used much more frequently than “I,” “me,” and “my.” Servant leaders seek the common good achieved by collective efforts, and use speech that coincides with that attitude. Servant leaders are the ultimate team players. 

  1. Value statements are meant to be practiced, not stored on a shelf:

Values statements are expressions of what community members believe collectively. They are principles and standards that serve as common ground for all members. Shared values are the truths that bind together otherwise diverse constituents, providing a common foundation for behavior, decision-making, and action-taking. Servant leaders give life to their organization’s values in many ways. They are used to define unity and community within promotional and public relations documents that link the organization to its environment. Values are applied internally to community-building by forming the foundation of interviews with potential workers, hiring decisions (“getting the right people on the bus”), on-boarding programs, and performance evaluation systems, as well as recognition and reward schemes—to name just a few. 

  1. Vision isn’t everything, but it’s the beginning of everything (McAllister-Wilson, 2004):

First and foremost, servant leaders lead through their vision, their motivating description of what tomorrow will be like. Their vision is the mental picture of success they create for others. It expresses high ideals and values, giving focus to human energy. A servant leader’s vision inspires both the leader and followers to take action and to accomplish goals. Visions incorporate hopes, dreams, and aspirations. When a worker or any other stakeholder hears a compelling vision, their reaction is, “Yes, I want to contribute my energy to that.” 

  1. Everyone is good at something (and I am a talent scout) (Ortberg, 2004):

Often people do not see in themselves what someone else sees in them. Effective servant leaders share a common attitude that everyone is good at something. Imagine the positive environment that is created when leaders adopt this perspective. Upon encountering an employee or peer, servant leaders recognize that it is their responsibility to identify that person’s special talents and help them realize how they can apply their gifts toward achievement of the organization’s vision. Servant leaders see themselves as talent scouts. They believe that everyone has a unique contribution to offer. Further, they believe it is their job to recognize it (even if the follower does not) and direct it toward vision attainment.

  1. I am committed to your success:

Another attitude that reflects the servant leader’s other-centered approach involves seeing their role as facilitator, educator, and coach. The support of a servant leader makes a difference in the lives and careers of their followers. Servant leaders let followers know they will be working with them to help them grow. They regularly make “growth assignments.” Leaders observe followers executing tasks, encouraging them and doing everything possible to develop them into high performers—and future servant leaders. If they sense that there is something they cannot develop personally, they will find others who can and bring their tutelage into play. Servant leaders will make sure followers’ gifts are fanned into flames so that constituents are strengthened and serve others well. 

  1. It’s useful to give my power away:

Servant leaders are motivated by their desire to serve others. They view leadership as the best way to achieve this service objective. In addition, they recognize the paradox of power; they become more powerful when they give their power away. Servant leaders are probably least motivated by, and least dependent upon, the legitimate power base (having a formal leadership position and being “the boss”), but they frequently find themselves building a strong referent (goodwill) power base as they give away their power to constituents through delegation, empowerment, shared budget authority, putting subordinates on meeting agendas, and other strategies. 

  1. I don’t have to be right all the time (other people have good ideas too):

Related closely to the practice of humility, servant leaders adopt the attitude that they need not be right all the time. They listen. They know and act on the concept that other people have good ideas too. Their job is to surface the best ideas, not just their own. Indeed, they are comfortable crediting good ideas to others. Further, servant leaders demonstrate their humility by admitting their errors. They know everyone is human and all of us make mistakes. In a work environment characterized by trust, leaders and followers admit their mistakes and work together to pursue continuous improvement.

  1. Listening is hard workand it’s worth the effort:

Listening to others demonstrates respect and helps to build trust. Servant leaders listen first. As Robert Greenleaf (1970, 18) writes, “Only a true natural servant automatically responds to any problem by listening first.” Greenleaf also suggests that the best test of whether we are really getting through to a communication partner is to first ask ourselves if we are really listening to the one to whom we want to communicate. He reminds us that we must not be afraid of a little silence; a relaxed approach to dialogue will involve welcoming some quiet, silent moments. Further, rather than focus on “telling,” servant leaders ask meaningful questions of those they lead—then invest their time in listening to followers’ responses. 

  1. Feedback is a gift:

Another aspect of a servant leader’s humility involves welcoming and accepting feedback. Since servant leaders recognize their purpose as serving others, what better way to improve their service than to receive from those served direct feedback regarding their own performance and perceived effectiveness? Feedback is a good thing if leaders adopt the attitude that others’ opinions and perspectives provide an opportunity for personal improvement. When true servant leaders receive negative feedback, they don’t defend themselves. They simply smile and say “thank you.”    

  1. I am a community builder:

Servant leaders build a community centered on members’ shared values and shared vision, and they employ collaborative decision-making and action-taking. They know that leadership is a team sport, not a solo performance. Organizations are built on trust, and trust develops from effective relationships between leaders and followers. Taking responsibility for relationships is more than a necessity, it is a duty. To build community successfully, it is imperative to select the right people. Strong communities are built around people who share the organization’s values and are passionate about the vision. Servant leaders stoke the fire of community through appeal to common vision. They help constituents see that their work is bigger than themselves. 

Skills

Servant leaders are committed to serving others. They listen first, trust first, train first, and suffer first. Among other things, this means servant leaders are “people-growing” and “community-building.” Therefore, it is particularly important that servant leaders develop the skills identified below. Detailed discussions for building and applying these skills are included in the book.  

  1. Knowing and sharing personal values
  2. Listening
  3. Communicating
    1. Asking questions
    2. Telling stories
    3. Being optimistic
    4. Saying “we”
    5. Stimulating informal conversations
  4. Visioning
  5. Managing time
  6. Running a meeting
  7. Forgiving 

While “managing time” and “running a meeting” are skills relevant to all leaders, there are sufficient special approaches for servant leaders that warrant inclusion in this book.

Behaviors

Neither servant leaders’ attitudes nor developed skills create real value for leaders or their organizations until they are put to use through behaviors. The following behaviors are discussed at length in the book. 

  1. Being proactive
  2. Establishing credibility
  3. Building trust
  4. Building networks
  5. Empowering others to act (result of Behaviors 1-4)
  6. Embracing change
  7. Planning the future
  8. Reflecting


Larry W. Boone, PhD, is Professor Emeritus at the Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University, New York. He is currently active in consulting and training, and serves as a member of the Boards of Directors for the Developmental Disabilities Institute, Long Island, and for Ladies of Charity Caregivers. He has consulted for a variety of businesses and not-for-profit groups. After graduating from Lehigh University, he earned both his MSIE and PhD at the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to his tenure at St. John’s University, Boone enjoyed a nine-year corporate career, where he worked as a production engineer and quality assurance manager, and held a doctoral fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business. He is an Adjunct Faculty Member at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, and taught for several years in the Pastoral Formation Program of the Rockville Centre diocese, Long Island. He has provided workshops and training experiences in servant leadership, management skills and planning throughout the USA and in Nairobi, Kenya, at Tangaza University. He is also a recipient of the Vincentian Mission Award at St. John’s University.


Servant Leadership: Attitudes, Skills and Behaviours is available now in Paperback and Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter the code PROMO25 at the checkout to redeem.

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