Leaders can have great influence on followers by assuming the role of a servant. In his book, The Servant, James Hunter writes, “the role of the leader is not to rule and lord it over the next layer down. Rather, the role of the leader is to serve” (Hunter, 1998, p. 62). A servant leader assumes the attitude of wanting the team members to be highly successful. The leader helps facilitate this success by taking a genuine interest in the well-being of the team members and making sure they have everything they need to be successful in fulfilling the group’s vision.
Jesus was the only leader who has ever truly mastered servant leadership. “He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4-5, English Standard Version). Not only was he a true servant leader, he challenges us to lead by serving. “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:35, ESV).
Many people question the effectiveness of servant leadership, but I think that if Jesus chose this method, I should follow his example as I develop as a leader in my family and in my career. Servant leadership will naturally occur when I genuinely care about helping others do their job well.
Leader Traits and Actions
Leadership is a title that is earned by possessing certain traits and doing many different actions. Leaders can possess many character traits that define who they are as a leader, but leadership actions are something they give away as they invest in the lives of their followers. For example, a leader can praise followers when they perform well. This is a leadership action that contributes to, and flows out of, the leadership trait of encouragement.
As I lead my family, my goal is for them to say that I am a good listener, trustworthy, honest, fair, and courageous. They will only see these traits in me if I display them through actions. With four young daughters, it is sometimes difficult to take the time to truly listen to each of them, or my wife, because it can be chaotic at times. I will make a conscious effort to be fully engaged when I am talking to my family members.
Having good leadership traits helps establish trust with followers. In order to be viewed as an influential leader, the followers must trust and respect the leader. In the textbook, The Leadership Experience, Richard Daft (2011) gives insight on how leaders can build trust:
Inspire trust by being trustworthy. Servant leaders build trust by doing what they say they will do, being honest with others, giving up control, and focusing on the well-being of others. They share all information, good and bad, and they make decisions to further the good of the group rather than their own interests. In addition, trust grows from trusting others to make their own decisions. Servant leaders gain trust because they give everything away – power, control, rewards, information, and recognition. (p. 178)
In order for leaders to lead and influence people, they must have a way to interact with followers. Communication is the method of interaction between leaders and followers. Hunter points out, “It took me nearly a lifetime to learn the great truth that all of life is relational – with God, self, and others” (Hunter, 1998, p. 41). A great leader needs to be a communication champion. Daft (2011) writes:
A communication champion is philosophically grounded in the belief that communication is essential to building trust and gaining commitment to the vision. Leaders use communication to inspire and unite people around a common sense of purpose and identity. A communication champion enables followers to “live” the vision in their day-to-day activities. (p. 265)
Leaders should have something to lead people toward in order to have any depth and meaning to the experience. Vision is the destination that leaders use as a point of reference to lead people toward. Although it is possible for leaders to simply lead people around aimlessly, there is really no point in doing so. In the book, Leadership Wisdom, Lawrence A. Bossidy writes, ‘Armed with a clear picture of where you are, a clear vision of where you want to go, and a clear strategic plan of how to get there, the only question that remains is: Can you execute?’ (Krass, 1998, pp. 409-410).
There are many obstacles that stand in the way of transitioning from how things currently are and how things should be so that they align with the leader’s vision. Problem solving skills help overcome these obstacles. Problem solving can be done solely by the leader or by a group of people. Often, it is beneficial to involve the team in the problem solving process because the collective knowledge of the team can reveal an abundance of quality ideas that can be taken into consideration when deciding on a final solution. The team will also feel a higher sense of ownership in the final decision and will be less resistant to implementing the changes that come about because of the solution. Once the leader and group decide on the best solution to the problem, the solution must be implemented through introducing change.
Courage to Change
The best problem solving skills and solutions are merely discussion if they are not acted on. Leaders influence others to act or think differently than they have previously done in the past. Thinking or acting differently requires change. Hunter says about difficult change, “Rather than working through things and tolerating hard work and discomfort, many are content to stay forever stuck in their little ruts” (Hunter, 1998, p. 54). Change can be difficult to accept, but leaders must have the courage to introduce change based on where their line of logic takes them.
Being a leader is a high calling and should not be taken lightly. As a leader, I need to be very intentional about how I am thinking and behaving because others are watching me for cues on how to think and behave. I will try to be fully engaged when communicating with others in order to interact effectively with them. I will take a genuine interest in the well-being of those I lead and will do my best to lead them toward worthwhile, meaningful vision and goals.
- Daft, R. L. (2011). The leadership experience (Fifth ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.
- Hunter, J. C. (1998). The servant. New York, NY: Crown Business.
- Krass, P. (Ed.). (1998). The book of leadership wisdom (pp. 409-410). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.