Updated: Jun 1, 2020
While working at a start-up the now CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, says his desk was strewn with old disgusting coffee mugs, which would sometimes mysteriously clean themselves.
One time he saw the CEO of the start-up cleaning his coffee mug. He asked him if he'd been doing this all year, he responded “It was the one thing I could do for you. You do so much for the company.” This is a classic example of servant leadership in action and something that shaped Reed's leadership style to this day.
Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy which moves away from "controlling activities" to focus on serving, coaching and fulfilling the needs of their employees, which results in genuinely empowered, engaged and nimble people who act as leaders themselves.
Five servant leadership practices
In his book, The Culture Engine, organisational health consultant Chris Edmonds outlines five practices of servant leaders:
Clarify and reinforce the need for service to others - Servant leaders set clear intent, generate alignment and they encourage their people to set aside self-serving behaviours in favour of serving others and the organisation as a whole.
Listen intently and observe closely - Servant leaders really listen to their people, and they actively solicit their participation, their ideas, and their feedback.
Act as selfless mentors - Servant leaders know that by helping to guide the people who work for them, they will help their employees learn vital skills that will both improve their performance, and improve them as people.
Demonstrate persistence - Servant leaders understand it takes time for the mindset to change, so they are tenacious and invest time to educate and inspire servant leadership practices at all leaders.
Lovingly hold themselves and others accountable for their commitments - Servant leaders hold themselves and their people accountable for quality, commitment and performance, ensuring teams members hold each other accountable just the same.
Where to start with servant leadership?
This is a long topic in itself, but there are some places for you to start. First, set intent around what you're hoping your team will achieve. Be clear on the mission. Once you've created clarity, push the decision making authority, responsibility and the information down to your team members. It's important to provide them with the tools, methods and techniques to enable the team members to take on greater responsibility and successfully self-lead. This is where practices from the Agile and Lean umbrella can be incredibly valuable.
For example, the Scrum framework lays out a number of key ceremonies which enable the team to focus and deliver on a common goal, collaborate, reflect on what they've achieved and improved on how they work.
Curious to explore how you can lift responsibility and leadership within your teams? Reach out to us for a chat!