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Colette Tanner - The Servant Leader Paradox

Servant leadership is a paradox for some. Opposed to attracting and wielding power or an over-burdening ego, a servant leader strives to create merit through stewardship and community building. Success is therefore inevitable as the leader serves the team by recognising and encouraging the team’s abilities to achieve organisational goals.

A leader has the ability to cope with change and by entrenching a vision, establishes direction for a business. Through communicating the vision, the leader reaches agreement with the team and
influences the team to overcome challenges. Pivotal to leadership is influence, a leader has the
ability to influence a particular direction or the achievement of a set of objectives.

In contrast, a manager copes with complexity, through formalising plans, organising, designing and implementing the plan and thereafter monitoring the results against the plan. Managers use the authority intrinsic to their position to achieve compliance. Managers implement the vision and strategy provided by the leader through organising and coordinating the day-to-day activities of the business.

Source of Influence
The source of influence held by the leader may be formal, for example, the position the person holds or line of authority in the organisation. Because management positions are formalised and carry authority, a person may assume a role of authority simply because of their position in the organisation, however it cannot be automatically assumed that the person is a leader.

Not all managers are leaders and vice versa. Non sanctioned leadership – the ability to influence people in the absence of position is equally important as sanctioned leadership. Leaders can emerge
from within a team as well as be formally designated to lead a team. Informal leaders tend to be experienced and knowledgeable; team members gravitate to informal leaders for troubleshooting and guidance.

Informal leaders are powerful in the workplace and their power is based on knowledge, trust, friendliness, and shared interests with their colleagues and their reputation earned through delivering quality and ethical outcomes. People within the organisation recognise these qualities, rather than the lack of title of the informal leader. An informal leader exercises expert power defined as the ability to demonstrate expertise in a subject or situation, regardless of hierarchy.

If one were to consider the Generational theory, there are often a myriad of generations at play in the workplace who have varying influences and expectations. Different generations can be characterised by specific historical events that often form their values, perspectives, and behaviours.
Studies show that Millennials prefer a teamwork approach over authoritative management style. A characteristic of millennials’ is their need to build relationships, Gen Zs are typically unafraid to point
out inefficiencies, recommend improvements, and disengage where there is a slowness to change.

Characteristics of a Leader
A leader should be ethical, have integrity, self-awareness, courage, respect, compassion, and resilience. A leader should be learning agile, show gratitude, and collaborate effectively. The significance of servant leadership rests in its transformative potential, fostering engaged work environments, cultivating trust and driving sustainable success.

A servant leader is altruistic and carries an attitude that places serving others first and above all their priorities. Rather than managing the results, a servant leader focuses on creating a healthy working
environment in which the team can thrive, where evidence of high employee engagement, employee job satisfaction and increased motivation is intrinsic. When an employee has meaning and value in the workplace, there is a sense of security and fulfilment, which leads to increased productivity and ultimately reduces staff turnover. The ethos of servant leadership is ‘take care of the people and the people will take care of the results’. High performance teams and highperformance cultures are born out of servant leadership.

Servant leadership is a doctrine and set of practices that enhances lives in the workplace and is fundamental to building a meaningful workplace, which as a result builds a better organisation and
through this attracts people who wish to perpetuate a meaningful workplace. The traditional leader focuses on influencing people to achieve strategy, goals, financial performance, and customer satisfaction, all paramount objectives but even more so profitability and delivering against shareholder objectives. However, a servant leader demonstrating empathy, humility and commitment focuses on bringing all this about through creating an environment where people are the nucleus, focusing on needs, mentoring and nurturing, development and opportunities, which will bring about profitability and deliver against business imperatives.

Ethical Leadership
Research shows that servant leadership boosts profits and employee morale. This ethically driven style of leading people highlights where supporting the employee can build influence, authority, and collaboration. Ethical leadership is central to servant leadership, ethical behaviour where there is integrity in the way things are done and how people are treated is the responsibility of anyone who
leads and through adhering to principles of transparency, openness, fairness, honesty and accountability sets an example for others to follow and in doing so cultivates a culture of ethical
leadership across the organisation.

A servant leader focuses more on involving team members in the everyday decision-making processes of the business than a more authoritative, traditional leader would where decisions are
made, and instructions delivered. Servant leadership skills facilitate the connection between co-workers at both the management and employee level, building unified teams. The servant leadership
axiom accentuates the needs of people in the workplace where the importance of frequent honest
feedback is understood by both individual and the team.

Through honest communication and creating an environment where opinions and views are openly shared and considered brings about trust not only in the leader but in the team and the team’s ability. Servant leadership pursues the development of leadership qualities in others.

Servant leadership strives to build a consciousness to those working around you and to create a community in employees as a way to achieve success in meeting organisational objectives. A community is a collection of closely knit individuals with common ground whether it be social,
economic, or political interests.

In practise servant leadership can present a few challenges particularly where the business is accustomed to a more structured or hierarchical culture. A resistance to this transformational leadership can precipitate a challenge with navigating an innate power dynamic where the focus is on authority or position power.

A servant leader exhibits humility through considering the goals of the team above his or her own and this can be discerned by the team as irresolute and feeble. The transition to a new leadership
style can take time where results are often not seen immediately, however where a business adopts
a culture of open communication and consistently cultivating the values which realise the evidence
of servant leadership, can only bring about success.

In closing, I include a poem I believe to be powerful in its explanation of the servant leader.

A Fixer
A fixer has the illusion of being causal. A server knows he or she is being used in the service of
something greater, essentially unknown…

We fix something specific. We serve always the something: wholeness and the mystery of life.

Fixing and helping are the work of the ego. Serving is the work of the soul.

When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may cure. Serving heals.

When I help, I feel satisfaction.When I serve, I feel gratitude. Fixing is a form of judgment.

Serving is a form of connection.

For more information please contact Colette Tanner, T: +27 (0)31 767 0625

 Colette Tanner The Servant Leader Paradox.PNG
 Colette Tanner The Servant Leader Paradox.pdf

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