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Learning to Lead (part 2)

Look at the picture above. Who is the leader of that group? Why do you think so? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts about that. I think the main point of the picture is that just because you cannot definitively pick out the leader, doesn't mean there is not one. There is, however, a team traveling the same path, happily towards their destination. Every tribe has a leader. But it might challenge you to know that the leader isn't always the boss.

Last week I challenged you to find the leader within yourself! Leadership can be instinctual to some, but others can certainly learn good leadership skills. We dealt with the skills of "Bad Bosses" who led by intimidation, fear, flattery and apathy. Those skills may get the "job done" but can also drive away good team members and valuable collaboration. As promised, I would like, today, to focus on those types of Leaders who get things done but also foster independence, motivation and team work.

The types of Leadership styles are varied and numerous. I could not possibly delve into each one. But I have chosen three healthy leadership styles, especially for the helping professions, that foster not only results, but also a strong company loyalty and work environment. I will highlight one style each week so as not to overwhelm the reader with data overload.

Today the Leadership Style in focus is the Servant Leader. The name servant leader appears to be an oxymoron to those who see leader and boss as synonymous. However, the Servant Leader style has proven to be extremely effective in motivating others to affect positive change. Learning to utilize the traits of the Servant Leader can increase positivity, productivity and potential growth in your agency. Lets look at those traits.

LISTENING: Right now you may be saying to yourself, "Hey! I listen!" And I hope you do as listening to your staff/teammates can be one of the strongest skills you will practice as a leader. A Servant Leader (SL) makes a deep commitment to listening intently to their team. They seek to identify and clarify the thoughts, feeling, ideas and will of the team. An SL may follow up with clarification statements such as, "So, let me make sure I am hearing you right. You are saying is that right?" By using communication styles such as clarification and summarization, the SL lets the team know that he/she wants to understand. And an SL doesn't just listen to the words, but also tunes in the the tone, pitch, body language and other non-verbal cues of the team. Active Listening communicates to the team that the SL is committed to their thoughts and ideas of each team member, who in turn feel valued and therefore become more productive.

EMPATHY: The SL strives to understand and recognize the individual strengths and needs of each member of the team. They believe in the good intentions of their team and accept their individuality and uniqueness for what it brings to the team dynamics. Even when it is necessary to correct behavior and/or performance of a team member, the SL uses the correction as an instrument for growth and not punitive rejection of the person. In response, the team sees the SL modeling empathy and often learns to practice the same methods with their colleagues and other teams. SLs believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, servant-leaders are deeply committed to a personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each and every individual within the organization.

AWARENESS: SLs practice an acute awareness, not only of the circumstances surrounding them and their team, but also an awareness of self. Self-Awareness is a cornerstone of SL, in that by opening awareness into their own strengths and needs, the SL can continue positive growth in the deficit areas while strengthening the areas in which they excel. The team responds to a leader who does not appear to be "perfect" but is dedicated to their own professional and personal growth.

Persuasion: The SL gets results through persuasion and not authoritarian demands. Convincing others to walk a particular pathway proves so much more effective than coercing the team to compliance. Some call it "giving the why" and it absolutely works. When team members understand the reasons behind the instructions, they tend to be more willing and enthusiastic to perform. A SL has the talents for consensus development, which can improve a team's performance as well as their cohesiveness.

CONCEPTUALIZATION: SLs are often seen as "dreamers". They look at challenges (whether in the team or in the organization) beyond the day to day realities, and are able to develop out of the box thinking to create solutions. One cautionary word about SLs are that they must be able to maintain that balance between conceptions and day to day performance.

HEALING: One of the most significant abilities of the SL lies in their belief in transformation. Utilizing their potential to bring self-healing as well as healing for their team/organization, the SL works to integrate the principles of SL into their entire organization so that the weak or negative structure can begin the process of transforming into a viable, loyal team who are focused on the "why" of the agency mission and the drive to work together in the achievement of their shared goals.

While the above traits are not exhaustive of a Servant Leader, the snapshot should allow you to understand why the SL can be a powerful force for change and healing in any organization.

Do you see any of the SL traits in your practice? Do you see those you would like to develop within your own style? Choosing to lead is not enough. Learning to develop your style, hone your skill and realize that growth is perpetual will ensure that you will be the kind of leader that your team needs.

If Servant Leadership appeals to you, there are resources that can help develop those skills. We will look at other styles in the coming weeks. You may find that you prefer some traits on one style and some from another. Your personal growth journey is just that...personal. I hope to keep bringing you nuggets of information that you can glean for yourself and expand your tool box.

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