Servant Leadership

So this will be a long one… but I hope you will find value in the time invested.

I was going through some old files on my computer and came across a paper I wrote while attending Dallas Baptist University. I wrote this in December of 2015. Take a gander and leave me a comment and tell me what you think:

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “servant” as: a person who is devoted to or guided by something; “Leader” as: a) a guide, conductor, b) (1) a person who directs a military force or unit, (2) a person who has commanding authority or influence. On the surface, these two words do not seem to be congruent, however when they are put together in an effective manner, it is a powerful combination that can generate unparalleled results.

For the past several years on my LinkedIn profile, I have identified myself as a “servant leader with a passion for developing people.” After going through this course for the past several months, I must say that I am more passionate than ever at becoming a leader that embodies that statement. In other words, I described what my desired leadership style is, however I was not living up to that standard in my day-to-day life. The style I readily embodied was more along the lines of situational leadership with a lean towards the path-goal theory of leadership. Most of my time in leadership has been in a production environment, so it was easy to grasp on to the thought that the outcome of a production goal, did they hit their numbers or not, would allow me the authority to speak into their lives. It removed the “servant” mentality and promoted the almost transactional aspect of my attention for your performance.

It is no coincidence that it was through a job loss that I found my way back into church. It is no coincidence that through that job loss, I was only able to find a role as an individual performer at my next job. If you turn around, and no one is following you, are you really a good leader? It was a sobering experience that actually set me back a ways in regards to my confidence. Between that experience and getting more involved in church, it prompted me to really think about my values as a person and as a leader to not only my vocation, but to my family.

Core values are the fundamental beliefs and guiding principles that drive behavior and action. There can be core values of the individual, as well as for an organization. When I think about what my core values are as a man, husband, father, friend, co-worker and leader, there are several that I would like to be associated with when people think of me. Humble… Authentic… Disciplined… Faithful… Flexible… Honest… Loyal… Accountable… Loving… Nurturing… Patient… Trustworthy… Understanding… Tolerant… A man of integrity.

When it comes to modeling these characteristics, there is only one man who was perfect in every aspect: Jesus. Seeking Jesus in everything will help me in becoming a servant leader to those in my circle of influence. I shared in one post my thoughts around these characteristics and how they could help me be an effective minister to others. By minister, I am referring to the act of attending to the needs of someone vs. being a member of the clergy. I think these all hold true regardless of how you define minister, leader, influencer, father, co-worker, friend, human being…

  1. Care about people and their story – help them to see how their story ties into the bigger story… God’s bigger story, your family’s bigger story, your organizations bigger story.
  2. Communicate clearly and effectively so the performer can execute. Define your conditions of satisfaction for them.
  3. Hold people accountable to what is expected – forgivingly and gracefully
  4. Be sincere and genuine in giving feedback – speaking the truth in love.

My personality profile per the Myers-Briggs assessment we completed as part of lesson 8, is that of ISFJ. As I studied what the results of this assessment and this “label” meant, it became clear to me why I behave the way I do in my leadership style, and told me that striving to be a servant leader is definitely in my DNA.

The strengths of an ISFJ personality are that we are supportive, reliable, patient, imaginative, observant, enthusiastic, loyal and hard-working with good practical skills. The weaknesses of an ISFJ personality type are that we are too humble and shy, we take things too personally, we repress our feelings, we overload ourselves, and we are reluctant to change and are too altruistic. As you can compare, the words I listed under my core values are very much aligned with the strengths listed here. In looking at where my gaps are in those core values when compared to my day-to-day decisions, the weaknesses are definitely brought out into the light in beaming fashion.

There is a website, www.16personalities.com, which provides an in-depth look at each of the Myers-Briggs personality profiles. They state the following about us ISFJs, “Few personality types are as practical and dedicated as ISFJs. Known for their reliability and altruism, ISFJs are good at creating and maintaining a secure and stable environment for themselves and their loved ones. ISFJs’ dedication is invaluable in many areas, including their own personal growth.

Yet ISFJs can easily be tripped up in areas where their kindness and practical approach are more of a liability than an asset. Whether it is finding (or keeping) a partner, learning to relax or improvise, reaching dazzling heights on the career ladder, or managing their workload, ISFJs need to put in conscious effort to develop weaker traits and additional skills.

In the workplace, ISFJs share the goal of putting good service and dedication above all else. ISFJs can be relied upon for their kindness and ability to listen to concerns, and to find ways to resolve them. As a subordinate, ISFJs exemplify the strength of humble dedication; seeking only one reward for their work: the satisfaction of knowing that whoever they helped feels heartfelt thanks.

Management is a natural progression for ISFJs as their hard work and good people skills are recognized over the years. As leaders, ISFJs are warm, approachable and great listeners. Having no real desire to issue authoritarian dictates from some high tower, ISFJs prefer to work with their subordinates, organizing people and minimizing conflict.”

Through our lesson in week 8, there was also a table provided that summarized the strengths and weaknesses of each profile. It is very similar to what I just cited from the website, so I will not repeat it here.

Awareness is a call to action. We have the obligation to ourselves to take action upon becoming aware of what prevents us from being as effective a leader as we say we want to be, and quite possibly, think that we already are. My life mission statement that I developed in this class, is a culmination of my values and my vision to be an effective leader of self as well as others: “To demonstrate a well-balanced life by applying Christ centered principles as I strive to be a lamp and a reflection of His light to all people I come in contact with.” My personality profile, and what I have learned from it, fits squarely into the life mission statement that I have developed for myself. At the core of who I am, it is clear as to why I am so drawn to helping others succeed. That directly correlates to my life mission. It is engrained in my DNA. God has gifted me with the ability and the desire to lead in this fashion and to help His sons and daughters reach their full potential in His name to further His kingdom here on earth.

Speaking of God’s gifts, the spiritual gifts He has blessed me with also tie into this self-awareness and passion that has been instilled in my heart. One of the individuals responsible for the Spiritual Gifts analysis tool that we leveraged for this class, Paul Basden, is actually one of the Senior Pastors at Preston Trail Community Church… my home church. To have the man who developed this tool be the same man who has spoken into my life on a regular basis through his Sunday messages, Men’s Ministry, Celebrate Recovery and even individually straight to my face, just goes to show that God has put me exactly where He wants me and the only thing standing in the way of fulfilling the plan He has for me, is me.

  • Exhortation: The gift of exhortation is the ability to bring out the best in others by means of encouraging, challenging, comforting, and guiding. Essentially it is the gift of counseling others to become all that God wants them to be.
  • Faith: The gift of faith is the ability to see God’s purpose in a situation and to trust his wisdom and power to accomplish that purpose. Essentially it is the gift of vision which enables one to believe God for what seems impossible.
  • Shepherding: The gift of shepherding is the ability of a pastor or a layperson to care for a specific group of Christians by guiding, nurturing, and protecting them. Essentially it is taking responsibility for the spiritual growth of a specific group of believers.

These being my top 3 spiritual gifts per the Basden-Johnson Spiritual Gift Analysis, I am certain that each of these can be leveraged in my leadership style. All three of these have a level of service to them in the aspect of helping others who may be wavering, are discouraged or in need of nurturing or protection. All of them are focused on the growth and development of a Christ follower, which tells me that they are good enough to leverage for the growth and development of someone who I am leading.

I have many opportunities to grow as a leader. The area that jumps out at me over all others would be my aversion to taking risks. I am not much of a risk taker. I am too concerned with people liking me to challenge them and hold them as accountable as they need to be held, I am to concerned that I am not good enough, I am not the right person for the job or that I am comfortable in my current position and do not want to risk failure if I should move to something new or different. As we have already learned about me in my personality profile, I have an aversion to change. When I feel outside of my comfort zone, I can tell you as sure as the sky is blue, that I have the desire to isolate and avoid basically running away back to my comfort zone. When I worked as an individual performer, which was easy to do as it only directly impacted me. It was not until I decided to take some chances, that the payoff occurred and other opportunities opened up. I was put into a role of leadership of others, and I can feel the tension as we go through a reorganization of our department and my desire to go back to a comfortable place being in direct conflict of the 5 people looking to me for guidance through this time of transition and unknown. I have to be bolder; however I need to leverage my strengths in that I need to leverage my team and their expertise to come alongside me in the battle to make this a successful transition.

There is another area in which I could stand to grow and that is in my familial leadership capacity. Even though both of my kids are grown adults now, in some ways, I think now is the time they will be more teachable and coachable as they will start to see in their real life experiences that the lessons their mother and I tried to teach them when they were young, were actually correct and good advice. That being said, there were too many times that I let things slide, chose not to say or do the right thing and namely that was only to avoid an argument with my wife, who had a different stance of right vs. wrong for the particular situation, or I would justify my lack of engagement with statements like, “at least they aren’t doing drugs! It’s nothing that bad.” Laissez-Faire at its finest! Definitely a “hands-off, let-things-ride” approach to parenting. If it did not have something to do with me and what was best for me, I didn’t give it much attention. I did not require responsibility for their actions since I was at work and my wife was at home. She became my scapegoat for any shortcomings of our children. I did very little to help them reach their potential. Fortunately, the kids were young enough when I snapped out of this selfishness and began to see that my time with them was short from an influence perspective and I was able to course correct to a certain degree. Neither of them is following the plan that I had set out for them, however that is ok. If I have learned anything, it is that when you force your plans or goals for others onto them, without any input from them, they are not going to buy in and while they may accomplish the result you are seeking, the bottom line is that it is a short-lived success, there is no relationship and there is no growth for them or you. Once someone buys in to what they want to do and it aligns with the goals for the organization, the sky is the limit at that point.

Robert Greenleaf coined the term servant leadership. His definition is the most frequently referenced definition which I have pulled from our textbook used for this class (Northouse, Peter J., Leadership Theory and Practice, Seventh Edition, Sage Publications, 2016)

[Servant leadership] begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead… The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test… is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?

There are 10 characteristics identified in the text as well that make up a general model of servant leadership:

  1. Listening – servant leaders communicate by listening first.
  2. Empathy – “Standing in the shoes” of another person and attempting to see from that person’s perspective/point of view.
  3. Healing – To heal means to make whole. Servant leaders care about the personal well-being of their followers.
  4. Awareness – A quality within a servant leader that makes them attuned and receptive to their physical, social and political environments.
  5. Persuasion – persistent and clear communication that convinces others to change.
  6. Conceptualization – ability to be visionary for an organization, providing a clear sense of its goals and direction.
  7. Foresight – encompasses a servant leader’s ability to know the future.
  8. Stewardship – taking responsibility for the leadership role entrusted to the leader.
  9. Commitment to the growth of people – a premium is placed on treating each follower as a unique person with intrinsic value that goes beyond his or her tangible contributions to the organization. Servant leaders are committed to helping each person in the organization grow personally and professionally.
  10. Building community – A community is a collection of individuals who have shared interests and pursuits and feel a sense of unity and relatedness. A servant leader fosters development of community.

I placed this information in the paper at this juncture to bring us full circle back to the top around what my leadership style is and how it ties directly to my “how” and “why” behind the philosophy of leadership. There is a second book that I want to reference as well that has been the foundation of my leadership development over the past 15 years. That is Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” This book has guided me more than any other. It has provided me the tools and applications that are timeless and proven to work in any and all relationships. I am of the mindset that leadership is influence and influencing someone is easier when you have a relationship, so having the ability to form strong, deep, trusting relationships is at the core of being a successful leader, especially a servant leader.

At the very beginning of the book, it lays out eight things that the book is going to help you achieve: 1) Get out of a mental rut, think new thoughts, acquire new visions, and discover new ambitions. 2) Make friends quickly and easily. 3) Increase your popularity. 4) Win people to your way of thinking. 5) Increase your influence, your prestige, your ability to get things done. 6) Handle complaints, avoid arguments, and keep your human contacts smooth and pleasant. 7) Become a better speaker, a more entertaining conversationalist. 8) Arouse enthusiasm among your associates.

There are 30 principles discussed in great detail in the book that provide applicable words and direction for becoming better at dealing with people. As you read them, notice at the end of each, I have put which of the 10 characteristics of Servant Leadership from Greenleaf could be tied to it.

FUNDAMENTAL TECHNIQUES IN HANDLING PEOPLE

  • Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. (Empathy, Awareness, Persuasion, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation. (Healing, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people)
  • Arouse in the other person an eager want. (Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)

SIX WAYS TO MAKE PEOPLE LIKE YOU

  • Become genuinely interested in other people. (Listening, Persuasion, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • (Awareness, Persuasion, Building community)
  • Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. (Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. (Listening, Persuasion, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interests. (Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Make the person feel important – and do it sincerely. (Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)

HOW TO WIN PEOPLE TO YOUR WAY OF THINKING

  • The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. (Awareness, Persuasion, Foresight, Stewardship)
  • Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.” (Empathy, Awareness, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. (Healing, Awareness, Foresight, Stewardship, Building community)
  • Begin in a friendly way. (Awareness, Persuasion, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately. (Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization)
  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. (Listening, Awareness, Persuasion, Building community)
  • Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers. (Awareness, Persuasion, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. (Listening, Empathy, Awareness, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires. (Empathy, Awareness, Conceptualization, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Appeal to the nobler motives. (Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship)
  • Dramatize your ideas. (Awareness, Persuasion, Stewardship)
  • Throw down a challenge. (Awareness, Persuasion, Foresight, Stewardship)

BE A LEADER: HOW TO CHANGE PEOPLE WITHOUT GIVING OFFENSE OR AROUSING RESENTMENT

  • Begin with praise and honest appreciation. (Awareness, Persuasion, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. (Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person. (Empathy, Awareness, Persuasion, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. (Awareness, Persuasion, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people)
  • Let the other person save face. (Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” (Healing, Persuasion, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. (Healing, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community)
  • Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct. (Healing, Persuasion, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people)
  • Make the person happy about doing the thing you suggest. (Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship)

The amazing thing about this book is that it was written in 1937. That is 33 years before Greenleaf published his definition of Servant Leadership. While I have not made a connection, I can’t help but think that Greenleaf studied this book intently in his works.

In summation, my intent as a leader will be to create an environment where my subordinates will feel as though they have the tools, support, training, knowledge and ability to be successful. An environment that they feel their voice is heard, they can contribute to the success of the team in more ways than just what they produce, and if the team or organization goes in a different direction, they trust that I, as their leader, will ensure they have a full understanding of the “why” behind the decisions. They will feel valued, loved and challenged.

The only thing I would add to this paper would be that we do not have to be in a position of leadership to be an effective servant leader. Leadership is simply influence. A smile can provide enough influence to change the course of someone’s day, therefore we all have the responsibility to lead. Own it. Be a leader and…

Be blessed!

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