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The Discipline of Servant Leadership

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

We are going to talk about what in my opinion are the three most important attributes of servant leadership but by no means the only ones. In the weeks to come, we will discuss most of the characteristics of what a good example of servant leadership is. I say most because there may be some that others feel are equally important I have read articles that have discussed anywhere from 9 to 15 different characteristics, as I said in a previous post we will be talking about 11 of them.


My number one most important thing I practice on a daily basis is listening. I heard someone say once that a good listener will listen to understand not to react. It hit me like a ton of bricks at the time because I was not trying to understand, I just wanted to get my point across and be heard. As I was working on being a good listener I began to try to anticipate what others were going to say, thinking that if I knew what they were going to say I could respond quicker. Is it because I used to do that or is it just because it is irritating when someone you are talking to starts talking over you with your words. I really hope I explained that so you understand what I'm describing. That is not listening, that is trying to hurry the conversation along and frankly, I find it bordering on rude.


I have tried talking to some of my clients who are argumentative, prideful or even teenagers, and they do not listen to what I have to say they listen and feel like they need to defend themselves for some reason. I make suggestions or share my experiences but I never tell them that they need to do as I say, that is the best way to get push back or flat defiance. It can be challenging to help someone stop being reactionary when that is all they know, but through the example, you set they will begin to understand and hopefully imitate. So next time you are having a conversation with someone really listen to them, be in the moment, be present, listen to understand not to react and be the example for others to follow.


My number two in my order of importance is empathy. Google defines it as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. I chose is number two because it takes the ability to listen and relate their situation to one you have personally experienced. I have found that many people confuse or consider empathy and sympathy the same things and they are not. Sympathy for someone is to pity them or have sorrow for them, it has nothing to do with understanding them. I think about two friends and one looses a parent, there is nothing the other can do to make the hurt go away. But, they can be there to listen, be a shoulder to share in their feelings not feel sorry for them. Don't get me wrong there is a time to be sympathetic but to understand and know the difference is key. I believe that as you practice listening you are also learning to be more empathetic, at least that was how it happened for me. As I listened to understand I began to be able to relate and put myself into their shoes allowing me to show empathy.


On to my number three pick, awareness. You hear me talk about being present or in the moment and that is part of being aware. Awareness actually strengthens our ability to lead, our effectiveness. When we can look at a situation and see it for what it is, taking all of the emotion out (which can be really hard sometimes) we can actually make better decisions. There is almost a sense of detachment when we can see a situation from the outside, which can be great as a leader and can be a quality needing cultivation. Knowing that it makes for great leaders and decision-makers it is still important to remember that without listening and showing empathy awareness alone could be damaging. Robert Greenleaf's perspective on awareness was to fulfill the needs of others and persuade those being led towards the common good. That doesn't mean everyone will be happy but that everyone will understand why the decisions were made the way they were.


As we end this week with these new traits to practice, do just that practice. Practice listening to understand, practice showing empathy and practice being aware. I don't know anyone that is perfect at any of these all the time but that is why we practice, right? So as you work on living your dream, be the example worthy of being followed.


Leadership is not the easiest of jobs and servant leadership is not necessarily easier but it makes your life a bit more joyful. I am here to answer your questions, encourage you and give you all the help I can in order to help you become the successful leader you want to be. Next week we will start talking about the actual characteristics of servant leadership and how to put them into practice. Be sure to listen to the accompanying podcast and subscribe so you know when we release a new episode. You can listen on Anchor, Google Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic and Breaker.


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Chester, Virginia

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