Today’s ever-changing environment and new operating guidelines have many school districts asking how they will lead administrators, educators, and students in a way that will help them to grow and to become more autonomous. Your district’s leadership style will play a crucial role in answering the question above. In truth, there are many opportunities to lead, even if the only person you are leading is yourself. Regardless of any title or role, you may need to take the lead at some point. Even though no one leadership style can apply to every situation, out of the many different styles, servant-leadership can help you to achieve both growth and autonomy. Along with many changes, and a growing list of concerns facing schools today, it may unintentionally cause you to focus more on tasks and not as much on people. However, if you and key decision-makers at your school focus too much on tasks and forget to serve others in the process, then you may risk low morale and even lower performance at a time when morale and high performance are critical. This week’s blog will explain why servant leadership in your school is an important element and provide you with key characteristics of servant leadership.
What does Servant Leadership look like
A servant leader is sensitive to the needs of others and this kind of leader is in tune with other people's feelings. It's okay as a leader to not always understand a person's feelings but can appreciate a person's feelings and respect other people's feelings. The servant-leader takes the time to listen to a person's opinions and they take the time to know why the person has that opinion and they are sensitive and appreciate people for who they are and appreciate that they are growing and developing into something greater.
A servant leader is not only sensitive but sensible and is grounded and has a reason for making certain decisions. It doesn’t always have to be a popular decision, but it is the responsibility of the leader to make the practical, reasonable, and realistic decision that will require others to rise to certain expectations for the benefit of everyone. However, a sensitive leader is also down to earth. Down to earth in the sense that people on the team can have real- talk conversations. Where people can be completely honest with the leader and others and say things such as, “here's where I am now, what can I do?'' Servant leaders are present for those kinds of conversations. Now the conversations can still be business-related and focused but also real by being honest and saying here's where we are and this is what we need to do. Servant leaders can connect with others and touch other peoples' lives. They are sensitive and sensible and engaged. They are Involved with those whose lives will be touched. Involved enough to connect with individuals and to really know what's going on with them and how the leadership role helps people meet people where they are so that they can be guided or walk alongside them while they are going to the next level.
Servant leaders are also relatable. It goes back to being approachable. Being approachable and relatable, not necessarily for the benefit of the leader but more for the benefit of building relationships. Relationships will take you so much farther ahead because you never know who you are talking to, and who you are looking at. The person you are leading today may be leading you tomorrow. Relationships we cultivate and build now may be the relationships that will help us in the future. Being relatable deals with a leader who is also involved with people because It’s hard to get involved with people if you can't relate to them. Servant leadership is less about the leader and more about the worth of others and it's about adding value to others. You want to add to and invest in other people's lives by making small deposits. It’s all about what we can do for them, not what it does for us as a leader. Servant leaders are concerned with what it is that can be done for them. They ask “what is it that they can do to add to other people's lives?” In education, this is what it is all about. Educators build communities so that students can thrive and function and prepare for the next level of their lives so eventually when they get to live their lives as independent individuals they can thrive. Servant leadership is not a top-down approach, it's a bottom-up approach. The leader seeks the needs of others and tailors what is needed on the needs of others. They focus on what that person needs to thrive.
An extraordinary leader does the extra. Servant leadership is counter to today’s culture because in today’s culture the focus seems to be focused more on self. Servant leadership is about taking care of people so they can then take care of others. Most people are not willing to put themselves as the leader, last. Servant leaders, however, know and understand the value of making daily deposits in others because you are seeing the potential in others and having hope in people. You can practice making daily deposits into the lives of others at any time, regardless of who you are, you don't have to wait for an established servant leader to appear. Anyone can decide to practice servant leadership. You don't have to wait to become a district official to be a leader. You can be a servant leader today.
Why does Servant Leadership work in schools?
According to Robert K. Greenleaf’s essay, The Servant as Leader, “servant leadership focuses on the responsibility of the leader to not only ensure the success of or the organization but also a responsibility to his/ her followers and stakeholders including, acting ethically, putting others first, and showing sensitivity to others concerns.” The servant-leader will also assist others in their professional growth and empowerment and help you to build a supportive community environment. What exactly does servant leadership mean in a school setting? A superintendent that maintains a servant leadership mentality can keep the priority on the needs of his or her stakeholders and is committed to the success of their district.
Why Is Servant Leadership Important In schools?
One of the responsibilities of a school superintendent is to nurture the mission, vision, and culture of the entire district. From the custodian to the teachers and students and also the families of students. Furthermore, as Greenleaf suggests, an added benefit of this leadership style is that it is designed to create leadership opportunities among disadvantaged individuals. This benefit is applicable in a school setting because schools are not immune from poverty across their student population. The number of students living at, or below the poverty level has increased in recent years, especially now as the pandemic continues to affect the economy. Therefore, encouraging servant leadership traits in your students can benefit your students and your community as a whole. Additionally, school principals who model and use this leadership style in their school will see an increase in teacher’s job satisfaction and an increase in educator’s effectiveness because they feel honored and served by their principal and other school leaders. This essentially will create a trickle-down effect that will affect students, their colleagues, and parents of students positively. When teachers model servant leadership traits for their students, the students will then learn how to build themselves and others up and learn to serve others.
Ken Blanchard the Author of the One Minute Manager Series believes that there are a few things that servant leaders have and do effectively. First, servant leaders have direction. If you are a Superintendent, a Principal, or a Teacher Leader and you don’t know where you want those who are following you to go, or you don’t know what you are expecting them to achieve there’s a possibility that they will not get to where you need or expect them to be. So part of being a servant leader and modeling servant leadership involves being able to set goals, and also serving them by including others in the decision making process when deciding what goals are needed. When others are involved in the process not only will it be easier to create and establish buy-in but they will feel valued and be more accountable for the outcome of the goal. When everyone agrees on the goal(s) that are set and the direction you have clear expectations for the goal, then the process of implementation can begin. The process of setting goals and including others when setting goals will help develop you, as a servant leader to guide those you lead into becoming more effective self-leaders. Second, servant leaders understand the power that comes with praise. According to Blanchard, a servant leader wants to “catch people doing the right thing” and even take it further and encourage others to identify themselves as doing things right and share their success with others. Doing this will help servant leaders to create an environment where people become self-motivated. Most educators consider themselves to be lifelong learners however, especially during present times, when technology, teaching methods, and systems that are changing from day to day, this couldn’t. be more true, now. Given the extent of those changes, you can expect that teachers will likely continue to be in the learning phase and you will encounter mistakes made. Instead of reprimanding, servant leaders coach and leave the reprimands which can immobilize people for those who already know what and how to do something and won't do it. Which brings up a third way to redirect those you lead to get back on the right track. Becoming an effective coach helps servant-leaders plant seeds for change. Being able to change and guide others to change is essential to growth and an indicator of servant leadership because you want educators or people you lead to know what they need to do differently. Coaching is a skill that can help Superindent’s, Principals, and educators work with students, parents, and the community.
Here are 6 more key attributes of servant leaders (borrowed from Dr. Dirk Van DierenDonck from Rotterdam School of Management)
1. Empowering and developing people
Allow everybody to take responsibility for their actions. The servant-leader recognizes the abilities and talents of those he/she leads and encourages them to run with it. The idea is to encourage the personal growth of everyone on the team. Servant leaders develop people, i.e. (providing learning opportunities, modeling appropriate behavior, and building up others through encouragement); building community (building strong relationships, working collaboratively, and valuing individual differences).
With a humble attitude, the servant leader acknowledges that he/she doesn’t know everything, that everyone has valuable knowledge and experience to contribute. Servant leaders also exercise humility by valuing people, i.e. (listening respectively, serving the needs of others first, and believing in people).
According to Dr. Robert Hogan, the founder, and president of Hogan Assessments, his research indicates that humility predicts effective leadership. Humility can be associated with minimizing status differences, listening to those you lead, soliciting input, admitting mistakes, and being willing to change course when a plan does not work.
People trust authenticity and they instinctively reject fake behavior. A leader is authentic and is viewed as being authentic if he acts with integrity, follows through on undertakings, and shows consistency in his/her behavior. The leader must show that he/she is being true to himself/herself and must encourage followers to be true to themselves as well. Servant leaders have authenticity, i.e. (integrity and trust, openness and accountability, and a willingness to learn from others).
4. Interpersonal Acceptance
A great leader can accept others and relate to their feelings and what motivates them. This is also a leadership culture in which empathy and forgiveness are practiced as it is understood that it’s acceptable that people can and do make mistakes. Despite that, their behavior must not prevent them from being developed. By accepting everyone in the school, from the janitor, to every teacher and student for their unique perspectives, the leader lets each feel that they matter.
5. Providing Direction
This is what leadership is about – providing direction. Everyone should know what is expected from them, what their particular goals are. Ideally, the servant leader will succeed in creating the kind of environment where participation they experience is meaningful.
Dr. Dierendonck explains it like this: In providing direction, the servant leader must make work dynamic and have it tailored to the abilities and needs of those you are leading.
Stewardship is the willingness to take responsibility for the larger institution and to focus on service instead of control and self-interest. A servant leader sets an example for others to follow, and models how to act in the common interest.
Servant leadership is a style of leadership that is not easy and it involves change, but it will build leaders who inhibit and practice the attributes and characteristics mentioned in today's blog. Those who have used Servant leadership, say it’s a difficult leadership style to follow, but it’s one that can transform institutions from the inside-out and help everyone to grow and experience more autonomy.
If you found this information interesting or useful, let us know by submitting your feedback! We would love to hear what you have to say about the topics that we share and what you would like to hear more. As we grow, be sure to like and share us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so that we can expand our reach and move closer to our mission of equipping educators everywhere!