DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
Many individuals feel that servant leadership is an oxymoron because they do not feel they can serve and lead at the same time: they are incorrect. Servant leaders put the needs of their followers above their own, and in turn their followers continue to grow and prosper in the organization. Servant leaders need to be authentic and truly care about their subordinates. Servant leaders focus on empowering their followers, and sharing in the responsibility of decision making. They accomplish this with honesty and fairness.
While servant leadership is a relatively new theory, it can be utilized successfully in your units. As leaders, we need to truly get to know our Airmen and help them to reach their goals. One way I have helped my Airmen is allowing them to have a flexible work schedule whenever possible. With a flexible schedule, they can attend their children’s appointments, school events and stay home with them while sick. This may require me to work late or fill in the gaps, but that is what a servant leader does. They ensure their subordinates are taken care of. When I am able to help them in those ways, the Airmen are more committed to the job when needed, and work harder because they know I will take care of them in the end.
According to Coetzer, Bussin, and Geldenhuys in The Functions of a Servant Leader, “Servant leadership practices are known to sustain high performing organizations by establishing a higher purpose, vision and strategy; developing standardized and simplified procedures; cultivating customer orientation; ensuring continuous growth and development; sharing power and information; and having a quality workforce.”
This is everything we live and breathe as Airmen. While servant leadership is a new concept, characteristics of it are embedded within the leadership theories of transformational leadership, authentic leadership, situational leadership and the leader-member exchange theory.
In order for a leader to serve their people they need to be able to communicate effectively. This means they need to listen with the intent to understand instead of with the intent to respond. While they are listening, they need to keep an open mind to opinions that are different from their own and be supportive of those opinions. Communication can be challenging for some individuals because they are not clear in their intent and tend to leave out pieces of vital information. The missing information may not be omitted intentionally, but can lead to the loss of buy-in to the idea.
Servant leaders need to be aware of their surroundings, to include; physical, social and political. When a leader is aware of their surroundings they are able to understand their own feelings and reactions. This situational awareness in turn allows the leader to view their environment through the appropriate lens. They are then able to be persuasive without being coercive. Leaders need to be able to convince others to change to effectively reach goals.
Servant leaders are committed to their followers. They continue to help them meet their goals both personally and professionally. In the military we continue to work on this trade with the use of the Airman Comprehensive Feedback, Airman Leadership Qualities and routine feedbacks. Each annual rating period contains a portion for professional growth, personal growth and community service. Leaders are not only required, but should want to sit down with each individual to develop a plan to meet all the components and create a whole person concept. Being a servant leader means working with our Airmen to ensure their needs and goals are met.
Servant leadership is a quality that is learned through experience and interactions with others. When a leader commits themselves to embodying the qualities of a servant leader early on the better they will become. As leaders we must continue to practice servant leadership daily until serving becomes natural so our Airmen will know they are empowered to effect change which ultimately will ensure true excellence in all we do.