To what extent has autocratic ‘command and control’ leadership been replaced in the business world by ‘servant leadership’ and how is it successfully applied in real-life complex organizations? In a recent article Rotterdam School of Management’s Dr Milton Sousa looks at these questions and underlines the importance of ‘humility’ a key quality for the modern business leader.
The servant leader “wants to serve, to serve first. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first.” said Robert K. Greenleaf the founder of the modern servant-leadership movement, back in the 1970s. Greenleaf believed servant-leader organizations could change the world. The theory is widely accepted by academics and management thinkers today, and is a core part of the thinking behind the practice of ‘collective leadership’ and ‘participative leadership’ - styles that encourage the involvement of employees in decision-making.
“The servant leader empowers team members and builds confidence by displaying humility, authenticity, and the courage of his or her convictions whilst also being able to take a step back, motivate people to perform and offer support and praise when it is deserved. In short, the team and team performance come first, whilst self-gain comes later.” says Milton Sousa.
From his research Sousa has observed some positive aspects in terms of the practical implications of servant leadership for managers and HR professionals as well as some potential barriers to the implementation of a servant leadership culture in organizations.
On the positive side the servant leader can create a sense of ‘ownership’ where team members feel more involved and therefore ‘in charge’ of their work; albeit that ownership also implies accountability. Furthermore, when the servant leadership model is successfully implemented within an organization, leadership is no longer based on a hierarchical structure designed to keep people in their place but rather a process of driving forward collectively, as a team.
There are however many potential barriers to the implementation of servant leadership. In particular Sousa points out the cultural disconnect between attitudes to leadership around the world and the consequent difficulty moving away from traditional leadership styles across multi-national corporations.
However as he says: “One thing is for certain – the greater the ability of the servant leader to balance humility with action, the higher the chances of effective team performance and results.”
In this video Milton Sousa reveals that the more power you have as a leader, the more humility will help to be a successful one.
About Dr Milton Sousa
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