When I think about Servant Leadership, it really resonates with me personally because servant leadership is the basic leadership foundation I was brought up on. In the military leadership is a large part of who we are. Leadership is instilled in us from the very beginning. From basic military training, which is by most service standards, the first 2-3 months of your career; you are placed in positions of leadership to test how well you can lead others. During service we conduct leadership boards to see how ready are for promotion, attend a basic leadership academy and a senior leadership academy. Even during positions of leadership, you are still learning to cultivate and refine your skills of how to be a better leader. From the beginning you are introduced to leadership and from there, you will be face to face with leadership for the remainder of your service and if you stay long enough like I did, the remainder of your working life.
The basic characteristics of servant leadership are listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. (Northouse, 2016). I can find an example of how I have used or addressed each and every one of these characteristics over the course of my career as each one is critical. I will however limit my discussion to the first 3 listening, empathy and healing. Northouse differentiates between communication and servant listening as the sending and receiving of messages versus “listening first”. (Northouse, 2016) I have always been taught the latter, that you learn more from listening than by talking. This is not only a very servant leadership saying but a very true one indeed. You need to listen with the intent to hear and not always with the intent to answer that sometimes comes from power driven leaders. This servant leader listening is a listening to really understand which is a good segue into the next characteristic empathy. Within servant leadership and military leadership, it is important to be an empathetic leader to really understand and validate your follower’s feelings. The military can be a lonely and emotionally driven environment when you are away from your loved ones doing things that are not always classified as “fun”, missing birthdays, weddings, and funerals. As a leader to keep your follower’s in the moment and mission focused it is critical that you find the time to be an empathetic leader and understand what others are going through. Healing is the finally characteristic I will speak about and it’s not healing in the traditional medical sense of the word but as Northouse describes “caring about the personal well-being” of their follower’s. This is probably more characteristically true in the military than probably any other professional environment I’ve ever been. My followers have been like my children, my siblings, my family. It is such a family dynamic, and this is what is defined in the military as “good leadership”. When my soldiers struggled financially I either sat down with them to budget or got them enrolled in a budgeting class, when they are dealing with family struggles, I listen or take them to counseling to get them the help they need. There is no situation that is too “personal” that they couldn’t bring to me and bring them through. This is not all encompassing of servant leadership in the military, there is of the course the development of others and each of the other characteristics as well
Why is this the case? Why is servant leadership in the military so personal? Because in the military, we need the whole-person. If your mind is distracted on personal matters in a focused environment, you can make a fatal mistake; the types of mistakes that you can’t recover from. To prevent that, we take care of the whole person. Not just the part of you we need to get the job done. Our followers’ matter, their families matter, and their troubles matter.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th Ed. ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.