Pavel Titenkov / December 11, 2022
6 min read • ––– views
Building a great engineering team is essential to the success of any project, but it can also be one of the biggest challenges.
Today it's becoming difficult to find the right mix of skills and personalities. Engineers come from a variety of backgrounds and have different strengths and weaknesses, so it's important for the organization leaders to carefully consider who to bring onto the team and how to help people to work together.
Another challenge is maintaining a healthy work environment. Engineering can be a demanding field, and it's easy for team members to become overwhelmed by the constant pressure to deliver results. To avoid employee burnout, companies need to create a supportive environment that allows team members to take breaks and recharge when needed.
It forces the companies to change from the traditional hierarchies and command-and-control models of leadership towards more collaborative and participatory approaches. That requires a different style of leaders, which will empathize with and support their team members.
Servant leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on putting the needs of others first and prioritizing the well-being of the team over individual gains.
What is servant leadership?
The term "servant leader" was first used by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in the essay "The Servant as Leader". Basically, the servant leadership style was based on the idea that leaders prioritize serving their team and organization first - only after that care about their own.
In servant leadership, employees are empowered, however, the need for leaders doesn’t just disappear. Robert K. Greenleaf established 10 principles of servant leadership for them.
Listening. The most important principle of servant leadership - listening. Listen to what is being said or unsaid. Listen and reflect on that.
Empathy. Strive to understand and empathize with others. Accept and recognize. Assume good intentions and help.
Healing. We live in a world full of terrible things, but you can at least make the work to be a safe and happy place for your team members, where they would love to return every day. Give them the space to heal.
Awareness. General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader. It helps to understand your team members and be able to view things from a more integrated, holistic position.
Persuasion. Use persuasion and influence instead of power to convince others. Listen to opinions and build consensus within a team, instead of forcing your vision.
Conceptualization. Think beyond day-to-day realities. Use big-picture thinking to conceptualize plans for the team.
Foresight. Learn lessons from the past, the realities of the present and the likely consequence for the future. Observe, learn and improve.
Stewardship. Lead by example so that your team can do what you do, not just do what you say.
Commitment to the growth of people. Focus on the growth of the people you work with and allocate your time and attention to that.
Building community. Build trust and good relationships with your team members.
These principles are meant to serve as guidelines and provide a framework for effective leadership. However, all teams and organizations are unique, so use your sense and be creative while applying them to work.
Getting servant leadership right takes time, energy and skill. You need to really know the people you work with, their motivation, their strengths and weaknesses and their areas of growth.
Identifying and anticipating the needs of each team member is essential. You need to put them into a comfortable and supportive work environment, where they will feel more at ease and engaged in their work. The tricky part is to strike a balance and not create an environment that is overly comfortable or stagnant, as this can lead to complacency and a lack of growth.
Humility should be the foundation of your leadership. Get over yourself and talk less - listen. Allow your team members to have a greater say in decision-making. It's an illusion that your impact on decision-making is decreasing. Your willingness to listen and provide support will create a sense of trust and your team members more likely will seek out your advice.
Pros and cons
While reading the article so far, you could think that servant leadership is the silver bullet. While servant leadership can be effective in many cases and I love it a lot - it may not always be the best approach for every team and situation.
If you succeed in adopting a servant leadership approach, you will likely see a number of positive outcomes:
- Improved engagement and motivation among team members
- Stronger team culture
- Increased job satisfaction and retention
- Better team effectiveness and productivity
The disadvantages and challenges you might face:
- It's time consuming. You need to spend significant time listening to and supporting team members
- It may not always be effective in situations where a more assertive and decisive leadership style is needed, such as in crisis situations or when time is of the essence
- Some may not respond well to a servant leadership approach, particularly those who are more accustomed to a more hierarchical or authoritarian leadership style
- Some may perceive you as weak or ineffective
- Good servant leader becomes almost invisible and it may harm your career in some cases
- Different leadership styles across organization may cause confusion
Overall, while servant leadership can be a valuable and effective approach to leadership, you need to be aware of its potential challenges and adapt your approach as needed to meet the unique needs of your team and organization.
Full disclosure: I love the concept of servant leadership and enjoy applying it in day-to-day work. I hope, this article will spark your interest and you will give servant leadership a try.
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