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Servant Leadership, More than a Title

Who knows (or remembers) what an acrostic is? Ding, ding, ding! Time up -- according to, (Noun) a series of lines or verses in which the first, last, or other particular letters when taken in order spell out a word, phrase, etc. The acrostic I created uses qualities that I believe make up a servant leader. By no means, does this acrostic represent a limited list of this leadership model. It is a start. I want to break the word down into the tenants of what serving as a leader means.

A leader is a title with meaning. It implies strength, quality, inspires, and instills confidence. Some people don’t see servant leadership as a viable model. In their head, serving implies weakness, subordination, and a lack of power. It is quite the opposite! Servant leadership comes from a place of strength, a controlled power and inner muscle that is strengthened by focusing on others. Kind of like being a superhero that does good for others. Smiles!

S is for stewardship

E is for empathy

R is for relationship

V is for valued

A is for authentic

N is for non-judgmental

T is for time

Stewardship - demonstrating careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care. I cannot think of anything more valuable than the hearts and minds of people that I work with (staff, clients, vendors) and in my life personally. It certainly isn’t about what a person looks like, their title, amount of money in their bank account,or number of things they have. As a servant leader, our job is to recognize the depth of that responsibility and invest in the professional development of our staff and ensure quality control is in place for clients.

Empathy is a word that we are hearing a lot in business conversations. By definition, it means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I find this puzzling when a person that uses the word doesn’t have any real knowledge or clue what it is to experience real hardships like loss of a child, homelessness, war and watching a person die, and having a mental, physical or emotional disability. However, as a servant leader one can listen to the pain and demonstrate true empathy by understanding how to meet the need of the person at that moment.


What are needs? According to Maslow’s theory, the first two are basic needs.

1. Biological and Physiological needs - air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep. 2. Safety needs - protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.

When basic needs of food, drink, shelter, warmth and sleep are met in a safe environment, stability is brought into an environment. As a servant leader, I want to make sure people can focus on their work….food is always part of the equation when we get together as a group. Food brings and bonds us together. When I teach as an adjunct, I have no problem with people eating in the classroom or bringing snacks for students to munch. It meets one of Maslow’s lowest needs and yields big results. People can concentrate on the subject at hand and it lessens distractions.

Relationship - What does that really mean? Most of us will agree it means to engage or connect with another person. Social channels can certainly extend outreach, however nothing replaces a real face-to-face or phone call that that may have a belly laugh, or tears running down the face relationship that shows we connect and care.

Stages 3 and 4 of Maslow’s hierarchy are based on psychological needs. A servant leader recognizes the need for inclusion, friendship, recognition and respect. Thus, the word relationship and valued are components of stages 3 and 4.

3. Love and belongingness needs - friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

4. Esteem needs - achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.

A relationship is defined by the moments we share, quality time we spend together, and a willingness to tell each other what needs to be said. Real honesty based on a relationship founded in respect and trust. There are times a difficult conversation has to take place about performance, letting someone go from the job, or quality issues. These are tough conversations to have -- yet a servant leader does this with respect, a genuine relationship with a human being that is going to hear something difficult.

Valued - A servant leader makes others feel valued for their contributions and strengths. Simple gestures go a long way. At the end of the day, we all want to feel valued, respected and heard. When asked what leaders could do more of to improve engagement, 58% of respondents replied “give recognition” (Psychometrics). That simple validation has the power to drive productivity through the roof. Cicero Group shared “50% of employees believe being thanked by managers not only improved their relationship but also built trust with their higher-ups.” Recognition drives productivity. People want to get recognized for their contributions. They want their work to have meaning. And when you are slacking on recognition, it’s essentially the same as ignoring their existence (Socialcast).

Maslow’s fifth and last stage is the growth stage, and the authenticity, non-judgmentalism and valuing time to me, represent the pinnacle of the hierarchy,

5. Self-Actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. A servant leader is aware of their strength and uses it for good.

Authentic - A servant leader is real and genuine. We have all heard the adage, “What you see is what you get” and it is true for a reason. “We measure leaders by their ability to get others to follow them and people will only follow people that they can trust… You want to be certain that the person leading you is leading you in the right direction” (Sykes & Botham).

Non-judgmental - Servant leaders listen and observe without judgment. Deepak Chopra “talks about non-judgment as being a foundation stone of living an empowering life. He talks about an open accepting attitude promoting this personal leadership quality and 'self-actualization'... the becoming of all that we are capable of being.”

Time - The gift of time is something that cannot be recovered. There are only 24 hours in the day. Subtract out time to sleep, work, attend school, study, spend with family/friends and personal space are valuable. Time cannot reversed. A servant leader recognizes the need for balance in work/personal life. We have all experienced a time when a push is critical and we had to make sacrifices in our lives to ensure a deliverable is shipped on deadline. The servant leader teaches time is a resource and managed through planning, it is one of the greatest gifts we can share with those that work with us.

My hope is that you will find other words that reflect the meaning and depth of servant leadership that you experienced or share a story of an inspiring servant leader you have worked with. Contact Isabella at Pivot Business Consulting for more information about how creating a servant leader culture in your business or organization.

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