It occurred to me recently that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on leadership; and, considering I spend a large portion of my week, nay, my life, conducting leadership activities, conversations, and collaborations, it seemed like just the time to create a new conversation.
In lieu of a diary entry this week, I’m going back to a previous post about servant leadership, and picking up from there, with new eyes, as it were. Meaning, it’s been almost a year since the last post on servant leadership, and I’ve learned a lot about, well, everything in the last year. Update needed.
Ready? Good. Here we go.
What is servant leadership? Good question. Here is the definition.
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
I like to think about servant leadership as a leadership style that upends traditional notions of what leadership looks, sounds, and feels like. It is, thus, quite different. It is also harder.
Harder because servant leadership incorporates subtle elements of leadership. For instance, the emotional well-being of the self, and each person in the organization, business, and or team are of utmost importance. These more subtle elements of leadership are not always captured in other, more traditional leadership styles.
In order to fully grasp the distinction between traditional leadership, and servant leadership, let’s first take a quick look at organizational hierarchies.
In traditional conversations and discussions about servant leadership, it is common to see, read, and hear about the concept of flipping the traditional leadership hierarchy.
Traditional Leadership Hierarchy
Servant Leadership Hierarchy
The concept of the inverted triangle, seen above, is common, and while I agree with this concept, in practice, servant leadership actually plays out a little differently.
It plays out in practice differently, because the flow of information happens between everyone all the time, and does not occur in a one-way directionality, as the above example illustrates.
Let’s take a look at what I am pointing to here.
Servant Leadership and Traditional Leadership
In my previous article on servant leadership, I elaborated on the distinction between a traditional approach to leadership, and a servant leadership approach to leadership.
Simply, in many traditional leadership theories, the leader is charged with distilling information, sending it out, and then holding people accountable.
In servant leadership, however, there is a dynamic context created through leadership of the self, of which all members of the team are responsible, creating a synergy of relationships and communication.
And, yet, even in the inverted servant leadership triangle, we see that the flow of information is distinguished with arrows, which still have a one-way directionality. As we will see in the next section, this concept is inadequate to fully describe how servant leadership is practiced.
Servant Leadership in Practice: A Diamond in Theory and Practice
In a context where servant leadership is practiced, information and communication is free flowing, collaborative, authentic, vulnerable, safe, and accountable. All of these things are true.
Information and Communication
Information does not flow from the top alone, as in a traditional leadership hierarchical model, nor does it only flow from the bottom, as in a servant leadership hierarchical model.
Rather, information and communication flow all throughout the organization, business, and or team, in such a way that at all times, each person is leading their portions of work, and is in continual communication about their progress and barriers.
It is then up to the CEO or Director to ensure that the flow of information and communication is continually moving throughout the entire organization, business, and or team.
Here is a simple diagram of how I see and experience servant leadership actually being practiced.
As you can see from the three-dimensional pyramid diagram, both traditional leadership and servant leadership hierarchies are disrupted, and replaced by a nonhierarchical model.
The implementation of a nonhierarchical model ensures that each person in the organization, business, and or on the team has a voice in all matters, including the vision, mission, values, and the future direction of the organization, business, and or team.
Though the servant leadership diamond diagram is not inclusive of all of the possible communication flows, many are outlined, which gives us the basis of the conceptual framework.
The servant leadership diamond diagram, and associated conceptual framework are also practical. Meaning, it is entirely possible to implement the servant leadership diamond conceptual framework into any organization, business, and or team.
In fact, it has been done, and is done every day by the team I work on and with; and, though harder at times, it is a beautiful experience.
In the next post on the Servant Leadership Diamond Framework, we will explore several concepts that leaders will need to understand to create the appropriate context for the successful implementation of a leadership framework that disrupts all hierarchies in favor of a nonhierarchical model; creating more voice and empowerment for everyone in the organization, business, and or team.