Servant leadership: Why it matters

Servant leadership is not a new term, but it is an important one for project, program, and portfolio managers to understand and emulate.

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The term servant leadership has been around for a long time, yet many leaders still struggle to incorporate it into their roles and daily interactions. The originator, Robert K. Greenleaf said that "The servant-leader is a servant first...It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead."

In the most basic sense, servant leaders put the needs of others first and lead by helping and mentoring others. Leaders, whether project managers, program managers, portfolio managers, sponsors, or other executives are under significant pressure to demonstrate their leadership skills. Sometimes they forget that the underlying purpose of leading is to serve the needs of employees and other stakeholders.

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Are you a true servant leader?

To be a true servant leader start by asking yourself these questions.

  • How am I serving my employees, teams, or stakeholders?
  • In what ways do I show my strength as a leader?
  • How well do my employees and other stakeholders know me?
  • What do I do well that tells my employees, teams, and stakeholders that I am there to serve them?

These questions will help you identify if you are a servant leader, and if not, it will get you thinking about your actions and what they might convey to others. The harsh reality is if you are not serving others, you are serving only yourself. Maybe not intentionally, but the outcome is the same.

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Why this matters

In terms of being an effective project, program, or portfolio manager, it is essential that your teams, stakeholders, and company leadership recognize you as a servant leader. If you miss the mark on this, then you are likely failing to gain buy-in. If you are an executive, the outcome is the same—but to a larger degree.

By choosing to only lead through a show of strength, you might only receive employee compliance. By showing compassion, humility, humanity, empathy, sharing power, and using your strength to serve all stakeholders, you demonstrate that you are a servant leader.

Ultimately, you will be seen as a better leader, capable of gaining more buy-in across more diverse groups. Great leaders understand that they simply can't lead with an iron fist, rigid stance, or lack of care for others. They recognize that leading through fairness and service to others enables greater growth in all areas of business and are respected for their efforts.

What type of leader do you choose to be?

Whether you are at the top of the pyramid, in middle management, or leading projects, the role you play is one of leadership. Lead by example, know that leading is knowing when to follow, and know that being a servant leader matters to those around you—and should matter to you if you want to be effective.

Also see

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Image: Kritchanut, Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, and a project management and digital workplace columnist for various publications. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large busine...