Effective leadership practices and methods may be quantified, and there are many distinct directions in which this quantification might go. Numerous leadership books concentrating on leading by example, leading from behind/above/nearby, leading like [insert famous fictitious character here], leading like Machiavelli would advise, and so on may be found by just perusing the business department of a bookshop or Amazon.
But because it’s so crucial, HR executives would be remiss if they didn’t take some time to examine how they want to lead and how their responsibilities can shape the idea of leadership in their organizations.
I want to share with you the leadership style I have found to best work within my team and organization at Cancer Treatment Centers of America© (CTCA): servant leadership.
Servant leadership is a long-standing philosophy with notable historical proponents including Plato, Lao-tsu, Cicero, St. Thomas Aquinas and many other Christian philosophers, Adam Smith, Henry David Thoreau, and members of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Popularized by Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s (greenleaf.org) and adopted by several prominent companies, such as SAS, zappos.com, Whole Foods Market, and Starbucks – to name a few – the subtle influence of this set of leadership practices can be utilized in business, politics, and social spheres.
Unlike other forms of leadership (Autocratic, Democratic, Laissez-Faire, Charismatic, Transformational, etc.) that look at leadership technique as the means to an end, a servant-leader focuses on working within a role (regardless of your level of responsibility or input) to act in service to those around you.
In Greenleaf’s own words:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
“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, and difficult to administer, 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 not be further deprived?”
This leadership style is a good example of a universal leadership philosophy that many can adopt at all levels within an organization. We practice and encourage servant leadership at CTCA© as this philosophy is at the core of what we do every day for our patients.
Make It Your Priority
So where do we start? The easiest step is to actively decide and then adopt the attitude of a servant leader, making it a priority for your daily work. We start with our immediate area of influence (ourselves) and build outward:
- Did I ask “how can I help” today?
- Did I approach my work today with the attitude that it is beneficial/valuable for others and so is intrinsically good?
- Did I volunteer my time to assist my co-workers with their projects?
- Did I demonstrate genuine interest in what my team (either teammates or employees) were trying to accomplish?
- Did I find value in even the smallest of my actions as it relates to the “big picture” of what our organization does?
You’ll begin to see ways that you and your team may benefit your organization as you adopt this attitude of selfless focus. Helping others is contagious, so you will quickly discover that others are also eager to lend a hand, which then cascades into the leadership responsibilities of the servant-leader.
Adopting this mindset could initially seem difficult as a notion. Going to work and completing our jobs is, for many of us, an effort in and of itself with a clear purpose in mind. On the other hand, the servant-leader embraces productivity and value creation as the journey’s aim; “jobs” become “professions” as we allow the worth of our work to become a crucial part of who we are.
Spreading From Within
Although changing (often dramatically) how we approach our jobs is a very personal activity, the potential advantages to our organizations can’t be disregarded because leading by service has a tremendous impact on others. A lot of my postings are intended to support our objective as HR leaders of enhancing the well-being of our workforce and, ultimately, our enterprises. People want to work in situations that are conducive to learning and development, which are created by selecting the best candidates possible, offering pleasant working conditions, seeking and utilizing feedback, and supporting programs for ongoing education and training. Corporate responsibility and sustainable business practices become integral components of our daily operations.