Pavel Titenkov / December 11, 2022
5 min read • ––– views
Building a strong engineering team is a challenge that every IT organization faces. In today's diverse landscape of skills and personalities, finding the right mix is not easy. The demanding nature of engineering work adds another layer, creating a need for a supportive environment that prevents burnout and fosters collaboration. 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, who 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.
The term "servant leader" was first used by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in the essay "The Servant as Leader". 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.
While it empowers employees, the need for effective leaders doesn't diminish. Robert K. Greenleaf outlined 10 principles for servant leaders.
Listening. The foundation of servant leadership. Actively listen to what is said or unsaid.
Empathy. Understand and empathize with others. Assume good intentions and provide support.
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 perspective.
Persuasion. Use persuasion and influence over 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. Envision plans for the team's future.
Foresight. Learn from the past, understand the present, and anticipate the future.
Stewardship. Lead by example. Demonstrate the behaviours you expect from your team.
Commitment to the growth of people. Focus on the personal and professional growth of your team.
Building community. Build trust and positive relationships within your team.
These principles provide a framework for effective leadership, but each team is unique, so adapt them to your specific context.
Effective servant leadership requires time, energy, and skill. You need to 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.
While reading the article so far, you could think that servant leadership is a one-size-fits-all solution. 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 several 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 crises 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 used in the same organization may cause confusion
In conclusion, while servant leadership can be highly effective, it's essential to consider its challenges and adapt your approach accordingly. Finding the right balance and understanding the unique needs of your team will ultimately determine the success of implementing servant leadership in your organization.
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