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Traditional Leaders vs Servant Leadership

Traditional Leaders vs Servant Leadership

Weekly Round Up 10.23.2022

What is Leadership? This may seem like a silly question. There are many books, podcasts, and classes on leadership, and that question must have been answered. However, the question, What is a leader keeps coming to the four.

Some think of leadership as a formal role given to an individual with a title such as "manager" or "director." For others, a leader is a charismatic individual who can work the room and charm their team to do what they want. 

Then there is the old debate of "are leaders born?" or can leaders be "made?"  

Leadership is much more than being a boss or a manager. In each of those positions, a person can be a leader. However, an individual can be a tyrant in each position and alienate their team. I truly believe that leadership is about the team and how to get individuals to work toward a collective goal. Leadership is about getting the best out of people, putting individuals in the proper role, and working with their strengths. 

I first started looking at what a servant leader is when I served in the United States Navy. Yes, the Navy is a very top-down, rank-structured organization. The traditions of the Master and Commander are accurate and it still is that way today. However, the best leaders in the Navy/ Marine Corps team put the welfare of their Sailors and Marines first. They are leading young men and women into harm's way, and each team member needs to know that their Commanding Officer has their best interest in mind. 

Brent Gleeson, retired Navy SEAL, writes about the leadership structure of the SEALs, how the teams work within the traditions of the Navy, and the dynamics of leadership on the battlefield. 

Now, you may think that servant leadership is a soft view on how to get things done and does not have a place in the high-stress command and control situation of high-pressure situations. 

David Marquet, in his book "Turn This Ship Around." He tells his journey of using servant leadership principles to turn one boat from one of the worst in the fleet to the top-performing submarine in the Navy. 

So let us explore the differences between traditional leaders and servant leaders. Furthermore, at the end of this piece, I think you will see the value of servant leadership.

1. Power

Traditional Leaders: The traditional top-down leadership approach to power is one of the sole authority. Traditional leaders believe that their power derives from their position of authority. 

Servant Leaders: The new approach of Servant Leadership recognizes that power is most significant in putting people first, seeking to understand the problem, and then working on solutions. Also, Servant Leaders are more collaborative by encouraging equal participation across all levels; Servant leaders allow solutions to develop from the group's best ideas and take a team approach to problem-solving.

2. Information

Traditional Leaders:  traditional leaders need to own information and share it sparingly. These leaders believe that information is power. So giving information to the inside circle or on a "need to know" basis allows traditional leaders to maintain authority and control.

Servant Leaders:  Open information sharing and trust is the cornerstone of Servant Leadership. Information sharing is critical to get everyone on the same page. Training and education also play a role. The more cross-training available, the more creative approaches to problem-solving can develop and be implemented.

3. Idea Generation

Traditional:  Traditional Leaders will occasionally entertain suggestions or be open to ideas from their team. In a top-down hierarchy, the decisions generally come from the top organization chart. Because information is firmly held, management may know of circumstances that drive the decision-making process withheld from team members.

Servant: The Servant Leader seeks to elevate all team members—collaboration leaders to the best outcome. Collaboration allows the entire team to participate. Leaders encourage brainstorming with different seak points of view and unique perspectives. 

4. Problem Solving

Traditional: In a traditional top-down culture, solutions are generally dictated to team members. These decisions are made in the executive suite, approved, and passed on.

Servant: The Servant Leader seeks solutions that are brainstormed among team members and facilitated by management. Servant leaders recognize the power of a group approach to problem-solving.

5. Resource 

Traditional: the traditional leader sees themselves as the gatekeeper of resources. They use their power to "award" teams with resources. 

Servant: A servant leader breaks down walls and fights for resources the team needs. They remove the stress and find ways to facilitate the teams' needs to focus on the task at hand. They allow projects to move forward, giving the team access to corporate resources (time, money, materials) necessary to do their jobs efficiently.

6. Rules and Responsibilities

Traditional corporate culture relies on rules, regulations, and a hierarchy that forces managers and team leaders to adhere to specific roles and responsibilities for them and their teams. This can stifle the creative process and result in team members working in relative isolation as information and resources are shared and provided on a "needs" basis.

Servant: In a Servant environment, teams are encouraged to work together. Information, resources, knowledge, time, and effort are shared. This allows roles and responsibilities to evolve and fluctuate based on the greater good.

7. Resolving Issues

Traditional: In traditional culture, issues are often dealt with individually without regard for the problem's cause. This keeps managers fighting fires instead of instituting beneficial change that could prevent issues from arising.

Servant: The basis of Servant Leadership is trust. Because team members are more responsible for their work, leaders are often more involved in the process. This means that as issues arise, they are often dealt with swiftly. Servant leaders look for the cause of conflict and address solutions promptly to keep work moving forward.

8. Performance and Feedback

Traditional: Most traditional corporations practice a semi-annual or annual review process based on corporate policy. This can be detrimental to employee morale. If an employee has had a banner year but missed a deadline or a project they were managing ran over budget in the last month, it can result in a negative performance review. This can damage morale and increase turnover as employees who feel unfairly judged may seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Servant: The nature of a Servant Leader is that leaders work to elevate their team members. Team members are equally valued and work closely together daily. This allows for immediate feedback, praise, and constructive criticism. A Servant Leader is nurturing and offers the opportunity to share knowledge and educate members on an ongoing basis. Servant leaders often share their knowledge and experience by offering ongoing personalized coaching to other team members.

Transition to Servant Leadership 

Traditional Leadership may have served well in the military and other government services. Traditional approaches work well in the short term. They allow executives to make decisions based on information that is not necessarily crucial to lower-level employees with specific organizational functions. 

However, new leadership forms are beginning to emerge for long-term team leadership. Servant leadership should be embraced, and the upside of trusting your team. Leadership today is spurred on by a challenging economic environment; workers seek more autonomy and engagement in their daily work. Servant Leadership is the future of Leadership. Servant Leadership creates an environment that is creative, innovative, and beneficial to any organization.  


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The Emergency Management Network Podcast
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