Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of two. Josh Emmett, who works in the public sector, and Dr. Daake will describe the growing popularity of servant leadership. Part 2 will give additional examples.
Millions of our citizens work in the public sector. Leadership and management principles can be applied to both sectors and also to nonprofit and volunteer organizations. Today, more than ever, there is a need to apply these principles in public organizations. With growing technology and quickly changing laws, choosing the right way to lead can be more challenging than it might seem at first glance.
Servant leadership is one of the most successful leadership approaches. What separates servant leadership from other leadership and management practices is the ability to be applied uniquely by every individual. The application of servant leadership is based on people’s willingness to serve others’ needs above their own.
As above, all types of organizations can apply servant leadership principles. But the specific application of servant leadership will differ from culture to culture. This makes its application particularly appealing.
Generating a common mindset of serving others before oneself fosters a team-based culture. Applying servant leadership to an organization is based the leader’s empowerment of others. But it must also be based on how well that empowerment aligns with an organization’s fundamental goals. And given so many fast-paced changes, particularly in the public sector, it can be used by those who have a desire to create fundamental change.
Servant leadership can be incorporated in a variety of ways, which demonstrates how flexible it is. It can be incorporated by reinforcing behaviors and actions that support the servant leadership philosophy.
For example, applauding employees and taking notice of actions that step outside the typical day-to-day job duties is a great way to do this. Recognizing employees’ behaviors and actions builds their confidence. Reinforcing healthy habits and actions to build a shared culture of servant leadership must be developed by setting a good example. Doing as one says, as well as wanting others to do what you say, is critical.
Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, we have seen several state governors mandating COVID responses and then exempting themselves. This behavior is just the opposite of servant leadership and can be appropriately labeled “selfish management.” For servant leadership to work, you must set the example.
As a leader, your tone must shift from “How do I get through the day?” to “How can I help others get through their day?” This, in turn, translates to better-perceived workplace conditions, which empower employees to become servant leaders.
Nothing is more substantial than empowerment to bolster the core of an organization’s employees. Developing your people by allowing them to mold their personalities to reflect servant leadership can pay substantial dividends. Leading by example and representing a mindset of consistently helping others translates to a more productive working environment. In the public sector, where it is challenging to give large pay increases and bonuses, providing personal fulfillment and freedom can be a dominant motivator.
Moving beyond the idea and theory, in the end, it is the implementation and focus that presents the most significant challenge. More specifically, those challenges present themselves in different ways depending on the type of organization being considered. The challenge is significant in the public sector because of various rules, regulations and expectations of the citizens and taxpayers.
A prime example of a servant leader would be Bobby Bowden, the legendary Florida State University football coach who won 377 college games, 12 ACC Championships and two NCAA National Championships. Dr. Daake met him several times and confirms he was a humble yet demanding man.
Coaching at that caliber and also serving his community and church with altruism and service was a feat in and of itself. Leading by example and conducting oneself as a servant provides a strong imperative for others to follow your resilient example of character.
Utilizing servant leadership in a public sector environment simply means helping those around you for the benefit of all and going beyond the minimum requirements. From Mr. Emmett’s experience, the implementation of servant leadership is best done in unspoken ways, not just talking about helping others but actually doing so. Implementing such a style of leadership surpasses many of the technical challenges other forms of leadership could face.
In summary, servant leadership is a beneficial form of leadership that requires an individual to serve beyond their personal self-interests. Servant leadership is flexible and can be adapted to fit any organization, culture and environment. Especially in today’s world with the average person facing more stress than ever and with, in too many cases, production being valued more than the well-being of those working, taking a moment to help someone else by serving them can make their days less stressful.
Finally, taking the time to learn from those around you to serve them is the difference between managing and being a true leader. J. Carla Nortcutt reminds us, “The goal of many leaders is to get people to think more highly of the leader. The goal of a great leader is to help people to think more highly of themselves.