The Majority are Transactional Overseers?

authentic leadership leadership leadership culture leadership development servant leadership servant leadership definition Aug 04, 2021
Servant Leadership Definition

So now that we’ve established that not everyone defines servant leadership the same way, let’s build a little bit stronger foundation for all that this idea really involves before we start studying some characteristics we can work to incorporate into our own leadership styles or examples we learn from directly. I’ve been a member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for years and recently found an article on their website called The Art of Servant Leadership. Here’s what jumped off the page at me when I read it for the first time:

Experts often describe the majority of traditional business leaders as managers who mainly function as overseers of a transaction: employees maintain desired performance levels, and in exchange they receive salary and benefits. Generally, these managers are positional leaders—they derive authority simply from the fact that they are the boss.

The servant leader moves beyond the transactional aspects of management, and instead actively seeks to develop and align an employee's sense of purpose with the company mission.

As we hone in on a foundational definition for servant leadership that helps us clearly picture the behaviors necessary to become known as one, let’s look at two specific things from that statement…

The first one is something you’ve likely seen me reference at least a few times already; calling someone a leader simply because their title includes the word “manager” is almost as fitting as calling someone a car just because they’re standing in a garage. If the majority those experts are describing are only managers who mainly function as overseers of a transaction, are they really leading anything at all?

The second thing that grabbed me was something I couldn’t agree with more! “(The servant leader) instead actively seeks to develop and align an employee’s sense of purpose with the company mission.” Cindy and I drive that point home in a lesson we developed called Building Buy-In Around a Clear Mission & Vision that we’ll be tailoring as the local leadership keynote session at the 2021 LIVE2LEAD:Harrisonburg Experience on October 22. But looking at the SHRM quote just at face value could easily cause someone to miss the whole point of servant leadership. There’s plenty of people in leadership roles who would indeed work to get their employees aligned with the mission, but many of them do that in a manipulative way that’s only good for the organization. When we work to earn genuine buy-in from the team around us, especially if we’re doing that from a servant leadership perspective, we need to be incredibly intentional about doing this in a way that truly benefits everyone involved!

The SHRM article goes on to say “The fruits of these labors are bountiful, servant leadership advocates say. Empowered staff will perform at a high, innovative level. Employees feel more engaged and purpose-driven, which in turn increases the organization's retention and lowers turnover costs. Well-trained and trusted staffers continue to develop as future leaders, thus helping to ensure the long-term viability of the organization.” I believe this is absolutely correct IF we approach it with the goal of providing value to everyone we deal with in the process. Anything less than that will eventually bite our backsides in one way or another.

As we move forward with this idea of servant leadership, we’ll look a little bit deeper into the origins before we begin looking at specific characteristics...