Servant leadership was first theorised by Robert Greenleaf in 1979 who, in simple terms, reversed the general concept of what a leader is and how he or she should behave.
Servant leadership means leading from a lower status, and directing a team not by telling everyone what should be done and how and controlling that everything is executed according to instructions. Instead, a servant leader is someone who maintains responsibility for his or her team achieving the desired result, but doesn’t exert much control on how their work.
Simply put, servant leadership means removing burdens from the shoulders of your team such as paperwork or filing to let them focus on reaching their assigned goals in a way they see fit.
Servant leadership in practice
This leadership style has been shown to work in highly uncertain and changing environments, where the usual reference points have disappeared and the team needs to sail in uncharted territories – think of a competitor suddenly entering the market with a new and better product and you not having a backup plan.
This is because servant leadership allows each team member to operate according to their own way of organising their time and applying their skills, and it removes other unnecessary burdens (e.g. paperwork) for reaching the team’s goal. Those, are in fact taken over by the leaders, whose role then becomes to free the team’s resources to allow them to focus better on their own work.
There is, of course, a trust component that needs to be built over time between leader and team for servant leadership to function – and it all starts again with the ability of both sides to listen and communicate better.