What is Servant Leadership?

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Written by: Julie Williamson, PhD

Servant leaders invest in understanding and connecting with the strengths and challenges their colleagues have and working with them to be of service to their success.

How Servant Leadership Supports Aligned Teams

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Servant leadership centers on empathy, encouragement, helping others to grow, and orienting as a leader to being in service to others – specifically your team of people who report to you. Some people extend this out to a servant lifestyle where those characteristics are brought into all interactions, from your partner and kids to the checkout person at the grocery store. It can be useful in many situations, but it is especially helpful when working to drive alignment to cross-organizational transformations or in a matrixed organizational structure where people are on teams without direct line reporting in place.

Choosing a servant-leader style is different from choosing an authority-driven style like command and control, or other hierarchy-driven styles based on dominance and positional power. Servant leaders invest in understanding and connecting with the strengths and challenges their colleagues have and working with them to be of service to their success.

When Robert Greenleaf first used the term ‘servant leadership’, he was exploring alternatives to traditional, leader-first models. In his work, he proposed several principles of servant leadership, including listening, empathy, foresight, persuasion, conceptualization, and building community. These principles emphasize leaders investing in their people to help them become autonomous, competent decision-makers who feel supported and personally valued.

The elements of servant leadership are useful when working on creating an aligned leadership team. Leadership teams are often groups of peers who need to work together and support each other. Similarly, in matrixed structures, leaders often have team members who do not report to them and where there may not be clear lines of authority.

In these types of situations, aligning and delivering together requires leaders to:

  • Be fluent in the business language and able to create clarity on shared goals
  • Make decisions based on the broader impact on other people and the business
  • Connect with peers and team members in a way that helps them to succeed
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of the challenges faced by other parts of the business

Looking for more tips? Check out our other resources on Aligned Leadership.

Building Alignment and Community Across Teams

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While a leader-first style depends on instructing and directing, a servant-leader mentality supports alignment and moving toward shared goals by emphasizing the need for clarity and connection across the team. By investing in authentic and caring conversations, servant-leaders build a space where everyone has the opportunity to shine, and they build aligned action towards shared goals.

While the servant leadership style is not a pre-requisite for building aligned teams, the concepts it embodies are certainly in service to creating and maintaining alignment!

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Want to continue exploring aligned leadership? Visit our collection of resources:

Exceptional Results Come from Alignment

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Alignment is a solvable problem for those willing to do the work, and the challenge of alignment shouldn’t hold you or your team back. Schedule a 30-minute conversation to learn how alignment can result in a greater impact for you & your team.