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To serve or not to serve…

Apr 27, 2019
Liam Dillon explains the concept of transformational leadership and its role in motivating others to achieve a shared vision.
Servant leadership is not a new concept. Indeed, the phrase ‘servant leadership’ was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said: “The servant-leader is servant first… it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first”. Wise words – and words that are being adopted more and more as organisations look at transforming the role of leaders.
The idea of servant leadership is to serve those who aspire to lead and allow them to lead. So why don’t we do this more and serve rather than manage those we lead? You must take a few factors on board to make this a reality.

Become a transformational leader 

Rather than act in a certain way in order to gain trust and avoid the pitfalls of human nature, tap into the needs and values of people. Inspire them with new possibilities that raise confidence, conviction and desire to achieve a common, moral and motivating purpose. This is commonly referred to as ‘transformational leadership’ and is a core element of servant leadership.
Is this a risky method of leadership? Of course it is, but the value and result is one of empowerment rather than management. Is this worth doing? That question is best answered through the three characteristics of leadership:
  1. Will your work environment support – and, more importantly, sustain – the transformational leadership ethic?
  2. Will the people that you manage respond positively to transformational leadership?
  3. Will you embrace transformational leadership and support its positive qualities?
One of the key objectives for any manager is to attempt to answer these questions and then focus on servant leadership to develop these skills.

Create the vision for others

To be a servant leader, there must be a direction – or vision – for people to follow. The vision needs to be exciting, adapted and – most importantly – easy to connect with. If it isn’t, we become a ‘transactional transformational leader’ in a management world, i.e. we may talk the talk, but not walk the walk. The vision must be focused on those we lead. 
Servant leaders understand the importance of clarifying and reinforcing the vision for their team because they know that vision isn’t about them. It’s about using an organisation’s culture and its people to capture the vision in a way that positively impacts the lives of others. When servant leaders courageously declare and pursue a vision that can only be accomplished with the help of the organisation, other people become inspired and motivated to participate in pursuing that vision as well. The vision can be ‘being an excellent team’ or, simply, ‘having fun’.
Make an impact on your team and become the transformational leader you always wanted to be. 
Liam Dillon is President of Turlon & Associates, an international training and consultancy firm.