Let me begin with this: I believe in servant leadership. I think as leaders it’s important that we serve others, advocate for our team, and lead with trust.
As a leader, much of the way I work in supporting others is getting what they need and getting out of the way. Or helping to set priorities and managing others who think their need is a priority.
However, sometimes I struggle with the oversimplified version of servant leadership that I hear suggested. In many interviews, I’ve heard candidates say something along the lines of, “I’d never ask a person to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.”
Truth be told, that is part of servant leadership. As a leader we shouldn’t put people in questionable scenarios.
However, in MarComm — that basic philosophy is flawed. There are so many people who are experts at their specific craft. So, while willing to design something basic, It’s a much better outcome for everyone if I let the experts take a go at it. As a leader, that does “technically” mean I am asking someone to do some I’m not doing?
What I Think Works Better
I think instead of focusing on this over simplistic definition of servant leadership we would be better to go back to the roots of the phrase.
Greenleaf developed the term in the 1970s, and I think it’s a much richer leadership style than we give credit.
This LinkedIn article by David Gregory highlights the 12 tenants of Servant Leadership that great leaders utilize. In looking at the tenets, these three stood out as some of the most important for MarComm leaders.
Empathy – The servant-leader understands that people need to feel accepted as part of their own unique selves.
I think as MarComm leaders we have to be empathetic and understanding of all that is asked of our team of creatives. Especially in the design world, having work constantly critiqued and adjusted can be hard. We need, as leaders, to serve as a shield and deliver news carefully but also support our teams in recognizing all that’s asked of them.
Foresight – Foresight allows servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.
As a MarComm leader heading toward an enrollment cliff, our teams need us to be in tune with industry trends, changes in our local community, and the challenges associated with tight resources. This systemic awareness and understanding gives us the best chance to support our teams and position our industry to succeed.
Growing of People – The servant-leader knows that people have more capacity than how they’re being used at any given moment.
As a MarComm leader, we know how much the industry has continually changed over the last decade and know the same will continue over the next decade. If we are not deeply committed to helping our teams learn new skills and new insights, we will be left behind as our industry embraces automation, personalization, and AI like never before. It’s on us to coach our employees to be continually curious and never settling.
Regardless of what leadership style you prescribe to, as a leader, it is important to know what matters to you and focus on those values when leading. Whether that’s servant leadership or another theory, we need leaders who continually work to do the best they can to support their teams.