By Mahmud Tim Kargbo
According to John Ballard, PhD. servant leadership is the second most searched leadership style on Google behind transformational leadership. Furthermore, the Leadership Quarterly reports that empirical studies of leadership styles only focused on servant leadership 1% of the time. Translate this to what we continue to experience in Sierra Leone, it means the majority of our alleged leaders continue to lie about serving the people, possibly even being servant leaders, but they know very little about what that means.
There is a danger to being drawn to a concept because it sounds good without understanding what that concept is or what it requires. There are many fake leaders today in Sierra Leone who espouse the benefits of servant leadership without understanding what the cost to the leader to implement such a style is.
The Focus Of Servant Leaders:
Individuals work in organisations and as a result, servant-leaders are both followers as well as leaders. The servant-leader serves the government he or she works in as well as the people they lead. Many people occupying social positions of trust in Sierra Leone forget about this dual focus of the servant leader and only focus on the leadership of their government and political parties. If the alleged servant leader does not serve their government well, they will quickly find that they are no longer in a position to be a servant leader. In all cases, the principles of servant-leadership must be uniformly applied.
What is Servant Leadership?
According to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, “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 a leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions… “ The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.
In short, Sierra Leone is still suffering from leadership problems as the majority of our alleged leaders from independence to date continue to protect their self-interests at the expense of the majority.
Where Does Servant Leadership Come From?
Servant leadership does not start with a series of agendas or practices that produce weak checks and balances within the system and benefit the selected few as we are experiencing currently. This approach produces a facade of behaviours that staff and the general public quickly realise are not genuine.
Servant leadership begins from core beliefs. It is an attitude or philosophy that drives the natural and genuine behaviour of a leader. Without this core, attempting to be a servant leader only leads to disappointment and deteriorating trust with a clean sense to constantly marginalise the already suffering majority.
Servant leadership comes from two fundamental, and seemingly contradictory, attitudes. They are selflessness and strength. The combination of these two attitudes forms a third dimension that becomes the heart of servant-leadership.
The First Fundamental Building Block: Selflessness
Selflessness is defined as “having no concern for self; showing great concern for and willingness to give unselfishly to others.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/selfless”.
Selflessness is putting others first and self last. Needless to say, the majority of our current alleged leaders do not reward selflessness. The psychology of entitlement mentality permeates our society’s thinking so that the majority of people approach a situation to see how they can protect their interests or get more than their share. Situational ethics, the philosophy that indoctrinates students for twelve years of their lives, teaches them to apply values to accomplish their personal goals in the given moment. Genuine selflessness as a result is often looked down upon and even mocked in our current system of governance.
The Second Fundamental Building Block: Strength
But selflessness by itself is not sufficient to be a servant leader. Strength is required. Servant leadership does not arise out of weakness. Strength is defined as a legal, logical, or moral force; a strong attribute or inherent asset; a degree of potency of effect or of concentration. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/strength
The servant-leader obtains strength from their character and from the position they hold. By virtue of these two items, the leader could demand the rights that belong to them; they could demand others obey and follow them. Instead, the servant leader willingly steps aside from what they rightfully could claim.
In essence, strength is the power to take action. The reason this is critical for a servant leader is that there must be the willingness, the strength, to step down from one’s position and to “serve others.” A person who is weak in character will not do this.
The Servant Leadership Quality Produce Sacrifice.
When strength and selflessness interact together they form a third attribute that is seen in the actions of the servant-leader. That attribute is sacrifice. Sacrifice is basically death to one’s own desires to serve others. When servant–leader selflessly steps away from their own desires to serve others, it becomes an act of sacrifice. The greatest example of servant leadership is Jesus Christ of whom it is written, “who, being in the form of God (strength), did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation (sacrifice), taking the form of a bondservant (selflessness) and been found in the form of a man, he humbled himself (selflessness), and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (sacrifice)” Philippians 2:6-8.
The attribute that allows the servant leader to sacrifice willingly is humility. Humility is not a sense of self-deprecation. It is not a belief that one is not worthy of the position of leadership or that the leader has no power or authority. It is the belief that others’ needs are more important than the leaders’.
A great example of this equation is Abraham Lincoln. Operating out of the power of the presidency, Lincoln selflessly and with humility took the actions to bring together a team of rivals to help achieve the mission. Personal power and reputation were not important. The mission was to unify a nation but to do so by implementing Lincoln’s beliefs in respecting the dignity of all mankind. (The values he was not willing to compromise or sacrifice). Ultimately, Lincoln sacrificed his health, his popularity (in the moment) and eventually his life to achieve the mission that was set before him.
Sacrifice becomes the hallmark of the servant leader. There are many other things that this leader could do with their time and authority that would be much more satisfying and enjoyable. But the servant-leader sacrifices for others.
What Is The Servant-Leader Unwilling To Sacrifice?
It is important to notice first what the servant-leader is not willing to compromise or sacrifice. As the servant-leader serves others there will be, from time to time, heavy pressure to compromise or give in on areas that are core to the leader. The leader may teach or explain these areas to those who do not understand, but the leader is not willing to compromise them. If the leader were to do so would mean the leader would lose the very reason for assuming the role of the servant-leader in the first place. All areas the servant-leader is unwilling to sacrifice are primarily related to mission and values.
• Values: A servant-leader is driven by values. The only thing more important to the leader than the people he or she serves is the values he or she stands for. When conflict arises between the values the leader stands for and the people they serve, the servant-leader always chooses to be true to values. But if the leader does not know what their values are or what they stand for, or if their values are compromised for expediency popularity, or compromise, then servant-leadership cannot exist.
If servant-leadership is attempted without a sense of values, the leader will serve the group’s whims and desires. In essence, the leader becomes obedient to the group and its pleasures. This is what many of our alleged leaders are executing today in Sierra Leone as their groups become more important than value or principle.
• Mission: A servant-leader assumes a leadership position because there is a mission that is worth accomplishing. There is an end goal that the servant-leader is moving toward, a direction that dominates their sights. The servant-leader is unwilling to compromise the mission or direction in order to gain followers of popularity. Again this becomes a challenge in today’s “politically correct’ works, where only a group consensus of the mission and values is tolerated. Standing alone for what one believes in is fast becoming a missing skill in Sierra Leone’s alleged servant leadership styles.
• Trust: A servant-leader guards integrity. This means earning the trust of the people by being honest with them in all transactions. Note, this does not mean the servant-leader has to tell everything they know. There is a fallacy today that transparency means leaders must share everything they know or they are not being honest. Not true. The servant-leader will never lie to or knowingly mislead an individual or group, but the servant leader does not, and cannot, always share all information to which they are a party.
• Team: Servant-leaders know they are no better than the quality of the team they develop. As a result, they protect their team. This may be protection from unjust criticism; it might be correcting the team when it is off course, or it might be defending the team when they are asked to perform outside their capabilities. It might be removing a member who is destructive to the team’s morale and performance. The leader is not leading when they allow the group to ignore issues they must address in order to improve. In essence, the servant-leader defends his or her “flock” by confronting the issues that challenge them.
• Progress and Results: A servant leader is not lethargic when it comes to making progress. The servant-leader is not leading when he or she allows the group to function slower than is required. The leader assesses the progress the group is making and intervenes with the group to make corrections to ensure the team is on track. In this way, the leader protects both the group and the organisation from failure.
What Sacrifices Does The Servant Leader Make?
The servant-leader primarily sacrifices to ensure the growth of the government and the growth of followers with no sense of segregation to achieve the stated mission. The cost of growth in others is high as is the accomplishment of reaching performance goals, but it is a cost the servant-leader is willing to make.
• The servant-leader sacrifices personal priorities. Servant leaders allow others’ needs to take priority over their own.
• The servant-leader sacrifices personal time. Servant-leader allows others access to their time. Rather than work on personal work, servant leaders use their time to help others as needed.
• The servant-leader sacrifices personal preference. Servant-leaders might prefer to go in a certain direction or take a certain course of action, but they allow others latitude to take different paths (consistent with the mission and values). If others’ ideas and suggestions make sense, the servant-leader is willing to listen and accept other alternatives.
• The servant-leader sacrifices personal knowledge. Servant-leader shares information and knowledge so that others gain the capability to perform on their own and live out the stated mission and values. Servant leaders often see others bypass them in the level of technical or professional skills. The servant-leader does not compete with his or her own staff to see who is the best technician. Much like a parent, the servant-leader takes pride in the accomplishment and growth of staff.
• The servant-leader sacrifices personal praise. Servant leaders step aside from the limelight so that the group receives praise and recognition for the work performed or goals accomplished. Often groups will wonder why they needed a leader at all. However, they make the mistake of not seeing everything the leader did to prepare them for success.
• The servant-leader sacrifices personal ease. Sometimes it would be easier for the servant-leader to simply do the job for himself or herself. The servant-leader knows that the growth of others requires allowing them to perform, as inefficient as that may be. The servant-leader knows that part of growth is to try things that are out of the box and this means some of those ideas will not work and may even cause more work.
• The servant-leader sacrifices personal popularity. Servant-leaders realise that popularity is not their goal and that in doing the right thing, they may not gain the praise of the group. Others in the group may actually begin to receive greater popularity than the leader as they are noticed and recognised for their performance that the servant leader helped develop.
• The servant-leader sacrifices perfection. Servant leaders are willing to accept mistakes and shortcomings along the way as people learn, grow and build capability.
There Is A High Cost To Servant-Leadership. Servant leadership is a high calling, but it is also a lonely path. It is a path that can cause leaders discomfort. It is not a style that should be adopted to impress others. It emanates from a personal attitude toward building a high-achieving team and this requires the leader’s personal sacrifice in order that others may succeed in a mission that is worth accomplishing.
There is a cost to being a servant-leader. That cost is death to self-interests. Most people are unwilling to pay that price but without it, servant-leadership will never be genuine or successful.
So you want to be a servant-leader in Sierra Leone?
Count the cost!