What is the first step to being a servant leader? Well, that is a loaded question. I think it has a lot to do with how you define service. If you define it as something close to slavery, then that will not get you very far. If, however, you define it simply as helping others to achieve their goals, then we can make headway.
Many people have trouble with the idea of servant leadership because of the word servant. They feel that serving is demeaning and has the image of groveling. Servant leadership is not at all like that description, at least not to me.
Servant leaders are discerning and know when a traditional service role is necessary, where providing support is where they need to be to help others achieve their goals. Servant leaders also know when to take a more forward role to guide and make decisions. This requires a mindful approach where listening is key.
Servant leaders take the time to listen to their followers to see who needs support and who needs direction. They fit their “style” to the people in order to move things forward. They are flexible.
Servant leaders also do not shy away from conflict, they listen to understand and provide direction or re-direction when necessary. This is not a groveling approach in the least.
Simply put, servant leadership is about a willingness to move away from the limelight to do whatever is necessary to help people succeed so that they can move toward whatever goal is set, whether that is a personal goal or an organizational one.
The key to me is that servant leaders are not consumed with themselves, they are, rather, consumed with the goal and with helping those around them get there together. They are in the team not watching the team, they are fighting for the team not blaming the team, and they participate with the team whether it’s comfortable or not.
So, back to the question, what’s the first step? I think it is to get in the right frame of mind, to be sure you can step away from the limelight, to make sure you are willing to do a lot of work and not get any credit, to share skills and knowledge, to give control rather than take it, and to stand up for your team even when it’s hard. This is a commitment and it runs against tradition, it runs against our competitive, win-at-all-costs society and it demands humility. Can you do it? Can you sit second chair? Can you cheer from the sidelines while someone else runs your play? Think about it. Do you have what it takes to be a servant leader?