One of the buzz words circling the leadership industry these days is the term, Servant Leadership. Why are so many people drawn to this idea that a Servant Leader is the apex of leadership examples? It’s because being a great leader is about being willing to get your hands dirty. It’s about giving of yourself to ensure that others around you are continually growing. It’s doing the hard work without necessarily getting the glory. Robert Greenleaf with the Center for Servant Leadership describes it as: “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? “
A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
The attributes often assigned to a great servant leader are:
Commitment to the growth of people
I’m fairly certain that if I asked any of you to describe a typical day at home with kids or when you were a kid, your role as a mom or your mom’s role, was largely spent:
- Listening-To you, your siblings. Whether it was about your day, navigating through what happened or trying to get to the root of a need.
- Empathy-You or your mom, no doubt, showed empathy beyond anything you knew you possessed. You empathized as your children struggled on hard days and empathized when the challenges they faced seemed insurmountable.
- Healing-Much time and energy is given to the healing of relationships. Maybe between yourself and your child; maybe between different children; or your child and another. But your ability to model, guide and encourage healing to take place in the midst of brokenness is invaluable.
- Awareness- Whether it’s a general awareness of the emotional or physical needs of the people around you or self-awareness of how to proceed in an especially difficult situation, being a mom or mother-in-law gives each of us countless opportunities to assess situations and make judgment calls on how to proceed daily.
- Persuasion-One need only to have sat through a single dinner time meal where all children ate their dinner without complaining, or complaining too much..where vegetables were consumed and not fed to the dog, that the gift of a mom’s ability to persuade is in full view.
- Conceptualization-Now, I’m guessing, as I’ve gone through the list so far, this might be the one where you think-how does conceptualization as a servant leader relate to being a mom? My answer..if you have survived the all night hours of infancy with little sleep, brought a child through the ups and downs of the teenage years, and possibly made it past the days of college-then my friend, you are a master of conceptualization. Anyone who can understand the importance of how the decisions and choices you make today can impact the life of the child you’re raising years from now-is an expert at conceptualization.
I could go on through the connection of foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people and building community to how a mom’s role mimics the attributes of a servant leader, but I think you get the idea. I will say, having a 3yo and 7 ½ yo at home, I have spent an awful lot of time lately, saying things like, “remember, we’re all on the same team” trying to persuade my little ones to out of poking, prodding, or pinching their sibling.
I wonder, how many of you mothers, have ever thought about including on your resume those servant leadership attributes which you clearly demonstrate effectively (more days than not) through your role as a mother?
Simon Sinek, has a book out called, Leaders Eat Last. The idea is that leaders care more about their people then they do about their own personal needs. On any given night when you’re eating dinner at home, how many of you with small children or when your children were small or even if it’s just you and your spouse, fix everyone else’s plate first before fixing your own. How many of you when asked what you would like for dinner, or your birthday or Christmas, may come across as indecisive when in reality you’re going through your mind trying to decide how much you REALLY want something v how difficult, how expensive, how much of an inconvenience it would be to the person asking? So a response like, “I don’t care or nothing” comes out instead of saying the thing you REALLY want because you feel like it’s not worth putting the other person out? That my friend, is the basic premise. Personally, I think, all Simon Sinek needed to do is go talk to a group of moms and interview them.
Now you may be assuming that what we’ve been talking about is no big deal..but it IS. In the professional world, how many CEO’s do we know would sacrifice themselves or their own needs for their people like a mom does? It’s something most CEO’s have to be taught, yet it comes natural to most moms. Imagine how much more successful and impactful our companies would be if we didn’t leave our ‘mom hats’ at home, but leveraged the skills we have learned and implemented them in the board room.
Any woman that can negotiate with a 3 yo to eat their vegetables, take a bath, not wear their ballet tutu as pajamas and go to bed instead of having ice cream, watching one more episode of Sofia the First and counting the dog licking their face clean as a bath is clearly a master negotiator. You have demonstrated the skills necessary to listen to the other side, weigh the best course of action and still come to a resolution all in record time…that is a woman who can lead fortune 500 companies!
Finally, let’s not forget about the importance of a woman’s ability to use connection over position. While it’s a great line when we’re at our wits end to say to our children, “because I said so.” We all know that in order to REALLY get our kids to obey day in/out and make the changes we expect, we need to spend the time and energy to make the connection with them first. Children respond from a desire to make us happy, to maintain a strong sense of connection to their parents. It’s the connection that fosters real change. Now let’s take this idea into the workforce. It would be great if all employees did what they were supposed to do when they were asked to do it-or better yet, before. However, how often or how many employees is that the case? More often than not, our employees respond to an employer or manager that they feel a sense of personal connection with. They strive to give their best work, to go above and beyond what is required for people they feel care about who they are, what their needs are, and know their personal story. As women, this, is right in our wheel house. Making connections is what we do best.