Northouse (2016) started this week’s chapter reading on servant leadership by describing how servant leadership is paradoxical. A leader who serves others for the greater good of followers and the organization… how exactly can that be translated into a leader (Northouse, 2016)? How is it that a leader serves the followers? How do they maintain status as a leader without establishing power? Servant leadership isn’t about the bottom line, power, the establishment and maintenance of the typical hierarchical organization, or even using power to guide others towards the success needed within the organization (Northouse, 2016). What servant leadership is about, on the other hand, is encouraging followers to engage in personal development to help them realize their own potential and helping them, help themselves (Northouse, 2016).
In recent years, there has been a substantial growth of research regarding the positive effects of servant leadership on the performance of followers and the organizations which employ servant leaders (Northouse, 2016). Research has found that when followers are willing and receptive to servant leaders, the organizations they belong to tend to be healthier (Northouse, 2016). A true servant leader enhances organizational health by providing clarity to tasks and goals being asked of followers; positively affecting the likelihood of followers displaying organizational citizenship behaviors; sharing power with followers to encourage their personal development as future leaders; and by the leader’s practice of putting the needs of the followers in the forefront of the leadership process, ensuring that a positive environment is in place that fosters growth within followers (Northouse, 2016). When followers have such an environment, their urge to develop “expand[s], grow[s], [and] become[s] autonomous… in order to express and fully activate all the[ir] capabilities and talents” which they might not be aware of without a servant leader present (van ‘T Zet, 2018, p.82).
This personal growth experienced by followers being “led” by (or rather, encouraged and nurtured by) a servant leader is reinforced when the relationship between leader and follower has established trust. Trust comes about via behaviors displayed by the servant leader such as helping followers to feel safe and supported (“emotional healing”); clear communication with followers that demonstrates how the leader cares for followers and putting their needs first (“putting followers first”); leaders making the personal and career development of the followers a priority and providing support and encouragement to followers as they realize their potential (“helping followers grow and succeed”); leaders being the voice of reason and the role model for followers, encouraging them to act with integrity (“behaving ethically”); leaders sharing power with followers to further support their realization of potential (“empowering”); and leaders “creating value for the community” by encouraging followers to volunteer their time to helping others (Northouse, 2016, pp.233-236).
While to some (such as myself) being such a leader of having such a leader sounds like a dream come true, this is why Northouse (2016) notes that a common criticism of servant leadership is its being “whimsical.” However, in my personal perspective, it takes a certain type of person to carry out servant leadership. One who believes in the greater good. Someone who has a realistic view of the world sees all the positivity, understands the cynicism, and yet still wants to help leave their organization a better place than when they entered it. Such a person would also need a firm grasp of concepts within the organization while also believing that positive psychology is a possible (and appropriate approach for the organization) approach to be used. Further, they would need to authentically behave with integrity (as described in the aforementioned servant leadership behaviors). As Northouse (2016) mentioned, these “behaviors of servant leadership are not esoteric; they are easily understood and generally applicable to a variety of leadership situations,” and I believe that I will someday have the opportunity to be a great servant leader (p.241).
I believe that every human being has the capability to learn and grow internally (focused on psychological, cognitive, and moral growth) and externally as integral components of an organization (focused on using internal growth and channeling it into learning new skills and self-efficacy in the workplace). Sometimes, providing the right environment is all a person needs in order to blossom. However, such an environment is not always desired by followers. Northouse (2016) suggests that if servant leadership is used with followers who do not wish to be led in such a way, these followers will tend to feel micromanaged and intruded upon. They don’t want a leader involved in their lives in such an intimate way and as a result, servant leadership can at best be ineffective, or at worst, deleterious to the organization’s productivity and morale (Northouse, 2016).
For the followers who are receptive to servant leadership, there are multiple positive outcomes. Northouse (2016) describes these positive outcomes as being:
- Follower growth and performance—where servant leadership helps followers to grow and to realize their full potential and in effect having the ability and encouragement to reach their full potential (Northouse, 2016). This can lead to the greater performance of the organization as followers become more effective and also have higher job satisfaction and also leads to followers desiring to help others in the same way, through servant leadership; thus, followers become leaders, and the cycle continues (Northouse, 2016).
- Organizational Performance- Northouse (2016) notes that multiple studies have found an increase in “organizational citizenship behaviors” which are behaviors that exceed the typical job requirements for the good of the organization. This type of behavior has also been shown to increase followers’ confidence while working in teams as they believe they will be more effective with servant leadership than without (Northouse, 2016).
- Societal impact- Northouse (2016) notes that servant leadership is a very noticeable leadership style that reverberates beyond the organization and into society in a few ways. It teaches followers to care for one another which in time will extend beyond the work environment and spill over into the followers’ personal lives and their interactions with their community (Northouse, 2016).
As an example of what an organization’s servant leadership might entail regarding the organization’s values, mission, and vision, I have provided a VMV statement I have been developing in another leadership course this semester:
- Self-knowledge: Know yourself. Explore the areas of light and dark within your thoughts, feelings, and actions to learn who you are and why you are who you are. You need to know and understand yourself before you can know and understand others.
- Conscientiousness: Be aware of how what you project out into the world affects outcomes of various situations. Act responsibly with your words and your actions. It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to make someone else’s experience negative because you’re feeling out of sorts. Reach out to a trusted co-worker, your superior, or the company therapist. The door is always open.
- Tolerance: By knowing yourself and becoming aware of how you might affect others, consider others’ perspectives; open your mind and your heart to the best interests of all involved. Listen without judgment and embrace the reciprocated tolerance and understanding shown to you by others.
- Integrity: Conduct yourself with integrity; be honest, forthcoming, and transparent in correspondence with others. Consistently acting with integrity begets effectiveness and confidence.
- Empathy: Have the courage to listen and appreciate others’ versions of reality in all facets of rationality, emotion, and behavior. Not only will you open the doors to making some life-long connections with the people you work next to every day, but you’ll also allow positivity, trust, and comfort to flow freely into your space, thus positively enhancing our environment.
Leadership Mission (The culture within the organization): To encourage employees’ individual self-knowledge so they may learn to become conscientious of their influence as an integral member of their workplace culture. Always aspire to listen to others without judgment. Encourage the engagement of employees to participate in skill and personal development workshops and require engagement in all training opportunities to ensure all employees are able to perform their best. Always aspire to provoke inspiration, motivation, growth, and inclusion.
Organizational Mission (Holistically who we are and what we do): To always conduct ourselves with tolerance and integrity; displaying empathy, care, and concern for the needs of our clients in a transparent no-pressure sales environment in order to provide an unparalleled positive photography experience they will always remember and always trust to return to for all of their future photography needs.
Vision: To become the premier portrait photography studio preferred by families and professionals.
With each of the values, you can see what I as a leader, believe is important for an organization both internally and externally (or rather what they convey to the general public and the contributions the organization makes to the greater good of all). The values are the ‘How’ the organization works to meet their ultimate goals (Mirvis et al., 2010). The mission statements include both a leadership statement regarding the culture within the organization and a collective organizational mission. The mission is the ‘Why,’ and explains the purpose of the organization’s existence (Mervis, et al., 2010). Finally, the vision is the ‘What’ for the organization, the long-term goal, the dream of what the organization is meant to become (Mervis et al., 2010). The ultimate goal I had for my VMV statements was to convey to all leaders, followers, and to the public, that the inveterate values of the organization provide an unwavering foundation of growth and support for all. Through servant leadership, this can be accomplished and will inevitably “transcend any individual leader” as the organization grows (Mirvis et al., 2010)
Mirvis, P, Googins, B., & Kinnicutt, S. (2010). Vision, Mission, Values: Guideposts to Sustainability. ELSEVIER. Organizational Dynamics, 39. Accessed on October 25, 2018, from https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/science/article/pii/S0090261610000604
Van ‘T Zet, J. (2018). Self-reflection and wonder as keys to personal growth and servant leadership. In: van Dierendonk, D., & Patterson, K. (eds) Practicing servant leadership. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. pp. 81-99. Accessed November 2, 2018, from https://link-springer-com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-75644-8_6#citeas
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice, (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE.