Guide Civil Service Leadership Forward Using Servant Leadership
By Tonia Burgess, NxtGov’s Director of Professional Development
“The only test of leadership is that somebody follows” – Robert Greenleaf
Change is imminent in the government workforce. According to the 2018 Gallup poll 66 percent of employees in the United States are unhappy, and 13 percent of the remaining 34 percent are disengaged with their jobs. Emerging leaders should consider conducting a self-examination of their personal “why” before taking a job that can negatively influence the work experience of others.
As individuals prepare to lead, it is important they assess their intent and motive to lead others. Ask yourself, who will you lead and how will you lead? The way you answer this question will shape organizational culture.
Traditional leaders lead from a hierarchical perspective that is top-down focused on the executive level, to middle managers, employees, and lastly customers. Servant leaders take the opposite view. A servant leader functions from an inverted triangle where customers are at the top, employees next, management, and lastly executive leadership.
Servant leadership embodies an inverted triangle. A servant leader devotes himself/herself to serving the needs of others; focuses on meeting the needs of those they lead; develops others and brings out the best in them: coaches, mentors, and encourages others; facilitates growth; and builds a sense of community that engages individuals. All of these factors demonstrate the characteristics of a servant leader.
Robert Greenleaf a landmark leader introduced the concept of servant leadership during the 20th century. The tenets of his work continue to lend themselves to the discipline of organizational leadership and development. Greenleaf identified three significant organizations he believed were appropriate to facilitate servant leadership and they were: churches, universities, and businesses. And yes, Greenleaf expressly considered government, as a large organization or business. Greenleaf stated, “all holders of power are suspect and all actions that stem from authority are subject to question. Who and how does it serve?” Moreover, he postulated “whoever will be great among you must be your servant.”
Greenleaf’s, style of leadership may seem unorthodox to many, especially in government. However, as government evolves in the 21st century with variations in technology and a diverse workforce, the next generations of civil service leaders would do well to explore and adapt key principles of servant leadership to guide government forward.