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My background is in sports. I played them. I studied them. I coached them. The lessons I learned through them are so deeply ingrained in my thinking that I unavoidably draw parallels between sports and business. This is particularly true when it comes to leadership. I challenge you to name a successful sports team that did not have a strong leader or leaders that the rest of the team looked to for guidance. Team leaders surface in all aspects of sport: in practice, in the locker room, in the final seconds of the contest. They gain the trust of their followers/teammates by being the hardest working players on and off the field, by embodying the team’s values, by making those around them better, and by putting the team’s needs above their own. In sports, we call this leader the captain. In business we should be calling this leader the boss. But allow me to ask a question of you bosses and managers who might be reading this article: do you deserve the title of captain? Are you the hardest working player at practice? Do you embody your team’s values? Are your teammates better because of you? Do you put the team’s needs and successes before your own? Are you a servant leader?

The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader.” According to Greenleaf, a servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. The servant leader shares power, prioritizes others’ needs first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Sounds like someone you would want to be, right? Or at least to follow?

Why should those in leadership positions aspire to be servant leaders? As team leaders, we all seek accountability, engagement and results from our team. Research suggests that to get these, it is important to manage in a way that serves the needs of your individual team members. Servant leadership emphasizes being resourceful, sharing power, and building a sense of shared purpose and teamwork. In turn, the leader fosters critical outcomes like trust, citizenship behavior, a positive service climate, and team performance. Servant leadership also leads to profitability. Those who are well-served by their leaders are more likely to serve their customers well.

How do you know if you are a servant leader? The quickest way to find out is to ask yourself: “Am I focused on the development of those I lead?” If the answer to that question is yes, then congratulations. You are on the right track! If it’s no, then you’ve got some work to do. And the best way to start, some say, is by focusing on these 10 characteristics of a servant leader:

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Awareness
  5. Persuasion (as opposed to coercion)
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the growth of people
  10. Building community

If you seek to develop and incorporate these characteristics into who you are as a leader in your company, you can quickly become a well-respected captain of your team, putting you and your team on a championship path to success.

How else could you improve your servant leadership? Great captains know and understand their own strengths and the strengths of their teammates. We can help with that! Contact us at Purple Ink if you are interested in training you and your team on CliftonStrengths.

Caitlin Alerding
Caitlin Alerding
Caitlin is a Trainer at Purple Ink. She is also a CliftonStrengths specialist and serves as a CliftonStrengths coach. Caitlin is passionate about discovering and helping to implement the mechanisms necessary for a team to achieve their goal or an individual to thrive in their position.

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