Who was your best boss? I'll go first. The best boss I ever had was also my mentor. She gave clear goals and intentions behind every dream she shared. She was not overbearing and did not micromanage. Instead, she gave me room to grow, ask questions, and even make mistakes. She had embraced every request and suggestion as if I was equal in position. She showed me everything she knew and did not hold back. She was approachable and she knew my job in and out. She asked for feedback and gave it just the same. She was the best boss I could have asked for. The best gift she gave me was the insight into the kind of boss I wanted to be and the first look into a true servant leader.
But first, let's start from the beginning! The term 'servant-leader' was crafted by Robert K. Greenleaf, and popularized in 1970. This theory was coined only after Greenleaf read the book Journey to the East, where the main character, a servant, disappeared from work and the rest of the works fell to pieces. Showing that the main character was in fact the leader of these servants. This made Greenleaf see that leaders are made in circumstances where they work alongside others to get the job done. According to SHRM, this made Greenleaf try out his theory while working as an executive at AT&T, and it has been taking off like wildfire.
There are ten characteristics of a servant leader as outlined by Larry C. Spears. Spears was the president and CEO of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership from 1990-2007. Today, you can visit the website to learn more about the foundation and programs. The non-profit offers many courses, one being the Foundations of Servant Leadership. Below is how Spears identifies these characteristics.
Listening - The ability to truly and attentively listen to your team and your inner voice.
Empathy - This practice of understanding and sharing the feelings of others.
Healing - The ability to heal relationships with others (for yourself and other parties).
Awareness - Having the ability to be aware of your impact. Understanding your power as a leader and now allowing it to impact the relationship.
Persuasion - The ability to convince rather than coerce compliance. The complete opposite of an authoritarian.
Conceptualization - The ability to think outside the box and at the bigger picture. Not only focusing on the day-to-day operations but the grander scheme.
Foresight - The ability to use intuition in decision-making. This practice evaluates the past, present, and future outcomes.
Stewardship - The commitment to serving the needs of others.
Growth of Others - The commitment to truly helping others grow. You would never hear a servant leader say, "They are out for my job".
Building Community - The ability to build a community like family, even at work.
When I think of my best boss, I think of all of these characteristics. And I have tried my best to carry these into my leadership style and practice the art of training my clients in the theory of servant leadership.
A great example of a servant leader is that CFO or business owner or COO who is in the trenches with their team. They are side by side, rolling up their sleeves, and pulling just as hard if not harder than the rest of the team. They are the first to say, "I don't know, but let's figure it out". They don't cower to their ego. They stand for their team in the face of adversity and conflict. They are the first to invite new ideas and encourage collaboration. They are the leader other leaders turn to. You get the picture.
"Servent-leader ship is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. In that situation, they don't work for you, you work for them." - Ken Blanchard
So, can you describe your best boss? If you are having a hard time defining the characteristics of your best boss, be better than your best boss. Think, what kind of boss do I want to be? And build from there. Maybe you strive to be a servant leader. If you do, there is an opportunity for you at the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.