Becoming a Servant Leader
by Jennifer Weiss -- April 6th, 2011
It’s not about you, it’s about them
If there is one thing that I’ve learned from my years in corporate America, it’s that there are all types of leaders. Some are strategic, some are charismatic, some are change agents and some …. well, some you just have to wonder how they got into a position of power in the first place. Any good business leadership class will espouse the pros and cons of each leadership style, but until last week I had never heard of the term “Servant Leader”.
Last Wednesday I attended a very well-run Duke MBA Women’s Leadership conference put on by the Association of Women in Business. The closing keynote was presented by Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart’s Executive Vice-President of their People Division. Yes, their People Division. During her presentation, she discussed the 10 characteristics of a Servant Leader. I have to admit that I was initially skeptical. Who wants to be a leader that is a servant to her employees? But because I am open to new ideas, I gave her my full attention.
Despite what it sounds like, a servant leader is not a leader who bends over backwards to make his/her employees ecstatically happy and it does not mean that the leader is selfless. As Ms. Chambers eloquently put it, “Servant Leadership is not the absence of pride, it is the presence of humility.”
Unlike leadership approaches with a top-down hierarchical style, servant leadership instead emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. The individual is a servant first, making the conscious decision to lead in order to better serve others, not to increase their own power. The objective is to enhance the growth of individuals in the organization and increase teamwork and personal involvement.
So, what are the characteristics of a Servant Leader? Here is Ms. Chambers’ Top 10 List:
- Listen, then act
- Teach rather than tell
- Know the pride of a parent (even if you don’t have kids)
- Advocate for someone
- Be vulnerable
- Be transparent
- Admit mistakes
- Thank people
- Understand that leadership is a privilege
- Practice, practice, practice
As a future environmental professional with an eye on sustainable business practices and corporate responsibility, the concept of Servant Leadership fits quite nicely into my opinion of how an effective leader should behave. It results in a collaborative use of power and is what I feel is needed to further promote environmental change.
Well done, Ms. Chambers. You had me at “people.”