A few years ago I was asked to speak on “Leadership” to a women’s professional networking group within the Utility industry. To prepare for the topic, which of course is really quite broad, I randomly selected about a dozen women in the organization to talk with about leadership. I wanted to know whom they thought of when they thought of leaders in their life, if the women saw themselves as leaders, and how the women spent their time inside and outside of work.
Most of the women I spoke with were servants and most of them did not see themselves as leaders. They served from where they were in all aspects of life. Serving is at the very heart of leadership. And this was the message that these women needed to hear most. It was by the very nature of their serving others that they were tapping into their leadership abilities. In their very service, they were being “called to the front” – essentially to serve as leaders. They did not set out to lead, they set out to serve.
Instead of speaking for the 45 minutes I was given, I chose to get the women talking. My mission became to discover together the key traits of a Servant Leader and to identify directly how their serving was building their leadership traits. I led them through a process where they discussed the following in small groups and then in the larger group:
- What is a servant?
- What is a leader?
- What is a servant leader?
- What are some leadership dilemmas you have faced?
- How might a servant leader respond to these dilemmas to resolve them?
This discovery process revealed some things. The women admitted that through their service, they are leaders in their families, their churches, their clubs, and in other areas of their lives. They confessed that at times they fear being the leader because they thought leaders had to have all the answers and are always ready and willing to “command the troops”. Finally, they agreed that no one has all the answers, or we would not need each other.
The women settled on the traits of a servant leader, like those that Robert K. Greenleaf so eloquently writes about in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader.” In their words, the traits of a servant leader are:
|In their words:||In Greenleaf’s words:|
|Use your ears twice as much as your mouth||Listening|
|Show and express care and concern||Empathy|
|Help others resolve troublesome situations||Healing|
|Stop, look and listen so you know what is really going on||Awareness|
|Tell others about the benefits of something and what you have gained from it||Persuasion|
|Be sure you understand and help others understand||Conceptualization|
|Think about and talk about all the consequences before you act||Foresight|
|Take good care of the environment, the resources and others||Stewardship|
|Helping others grow is the best reward||Commitment to the growth of people|
|Invite others to join you and make them feel welcome||Building community|
Have you noticed the reluctant leaders among us? Have you noticed that though they are reluctant to “take charge”, they most likely are ready to help, to serve, to give of themselves? When you see a servant leader in the making, call them to the front. Help them develop their leadership skills. That is truly what we are called to do as servant leaders.
If you are a reluctant leader, serve and know that through your serving you will be called to the front to lead.