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Importance of servant leadership

This blog is a revised and updated version of a previously published blog.

Servant leadership, I think this is perhaps one of the hottest phrases out currently. Be a servant leader, show your staff you care by serving them, serve, serve, serve. If you are like me, you first wonder what does this phrase mean, and how in the world can I be one more thing?

If I were to list all the roles I have ever filled, I would freeze the internet. As any other modern, feminist woman, I believe I can have it all. I am a mother, a dog rescuer, amateur chef, a daughter, a volunteer, a business owner, a boss, a writer, a friend, the list goes on and on. Most days I run from the minute I get up to the minute I crash in pursuit of fulfilling my roles. Most days there is more to do than I could ever do in a lifetime.

Servant leadership, time to add one more title to our list. But what does it mean? Does it mean we give everything to everyone else, allow ourselves to become a doormat? No. It means serving others in ways we can while we set and maintain healthy boundaries.

Being a servant leader means being in the thick of things with your staff, never allowing them to do more than you, or rather to feel like they work harder than you. Remember life is all about perceptions. Your staff doesn't know you are up hours before your family to grab a minute for self growth and improvement and to get ahead on the day. They don't see the lunches eaten at your desk or the late nights networking. Rather, they see a glamorous role with a good paycheck who doesn't have to deal with the crap of the day. If only this were true.

In my first turn around, a lot of cleaning was required by my staff. It was hard labor that was often dirty and exhausting. This came after working with high risk kids. I could see my staff didn't respect the previous administration who did not help, they just sat and directed. I decided then that I would never ask my staff to do something I would not. I showed up to the program every day, I talked to staff, children and parents. And then I found something to clean. It was hard, it was gross, but it was worth it. I earned the respect of my staff and parents and created a stronger team who was willing to work hard.

At one of my last turn-arounds, cleaning was not required. Instead building maintenance was and working with often irritated adults. I made the rule that it was my job to get yelled at, not my staff’s. I instructed them to get me every time someone was upset and I would handle it. Then I checked on my staff afterwards. I also handled the building maintenance, which often meant patching roof leaks in suits and heels. The staff who could be salvaged, the nontoxic staff, appreciated this and joined the team. Through my example, I showed them how to serve.

Servant leadership is essentially leading by example, you are the first person to arrive, the last to leave, the last to eat and the first to volunteer. You perform the dirty tasks with a smile, and no matter how bad your morning of day was, you always lead with a smile because you are the leader. You remember every employee's birthday and on holidays or after big projects are completed you have rewards and fun things for your staff. You never expect a thank you, you simply do these things because you want to be a servant leader, you want to be involved in your organization and truly know your staff and what is going on with them.

You will know when you have mastered servant leadership when you see your staff emulating you. Eventually everyone will be at work early and be willing to work late. The big projects will not be so bad because you are tackling them as a team and your team knows you have their back. Your staff will begin to celebrate you and your leadership, they will see your vision and work towards it. This may sound like a way to brainwash your staff into doing what you want them to do. It isn’t, it is a way to lead without ever having a power struggle, without ever having to say you are the boss. It is a way to thank your staff daily for their hard work.

Give it a try, you might like it, and I can promise you will like the results. A little secret I have learned, it is a nice break from CEO work. It allows me to stay connected with the mission, to suffer from hubris, to be reminded that I started at the bottom too. It is a humbling and empowering task, it motivates you and challenges you to give more, be more, grow more than you ever thought was possible. And soon, you will go home with a smile on your face, you will be happy and so will everyone else.

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