Robert Greenleaf developed the concept of servant leadership around the idea that leaders contribute to their organizations the most when they facilitate the people under their charge to be at their best. According to his organization's website, servant leadership is "servant first ... the natural feeling that one wants to serve" (Greenleaf.org, 2015). This juxtaposes the more traditional view of leadership that puts the leader first. In that more traditional view, there are a number of different leadership styles that a leader can have, and most of the scholarly focus is on either leadership styles or traits, to determine what types of leadership are most effective, and what defines leadership practice (Manktelow, 2015). What differentiates servant leadership is that the perspective shifts from being about the leader to being about anything but the leader. The leader has a role, but that role is to facilitate the excellence of others -- so whatever style or traits the leader has are not necessarily all that relevant. Under the servant leadership perspective, organizational performance is more important than individual performance.
Servant leadership therefore begins from a perspective that caring for people is a critical element of leadership. Whereas traditional leadership is mediated through channels that are "complex, powerful and impersonal," servant leadership is more human in nature by definition, mediated through direct personal interactions and the desire to genuinely help others to be their best. In this sense, servant leadership is rooted in an entirely different conceptualization of what leadership should be. From a philosophical perspective, servant leadership is completely different from the traditional view of the leader's role within an organization (Greenleaf.org, 2015).
Serving in a Community College
Servant leadership is a natural for application to the education setting. Crippen (2004) notes that one of the critical stakeholders in education is the student; the servant leadership philosophy would see that those working within educational institutions are essentially servants to the students, facilitating their learning above all else, and only then performing more traditional leadership functions, after the servant element has been fulfilled. Those working within the educational system should be empowered by the leadership function to provide the best educational outcomes possible. The leaders in the education system should be oriented towards the needs of the students, and what they can do to fulfill those needs. That can include, for example, ensuring that the people who work under the leadership are given what they need in terms of resources, training, guidance and support that they can do their jobs more effectively. The servant leadership model, in the sense that the students are the most important stakeholders, is well-aligned with the objectives of educational institutions.
Consider what Robert Greenleaf wrote when defining the philosophy of servant leadership: "Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?" (Spears, 2002). This sounds like what you would want to accomplish for the students, to facilitate their growth and their increasing autonomy, and for them to exit their educational experience ready to build up the next generation, and become great servants themselves. This shows that servant leadership has a high level of alignment with servant leadership at the philosophical level. If the leaders in education are oriented towards student excellence, then they will do what is necessary to ensure that the students grow, become healthier, and become wiser, while in their institution. This is the key measure of success for servant leadership.
But servant leadership is not just something that people in formal leadership positions do. Servant leadership is something for everybody. Teachers and college instructors play a leadership role as well. Again, the success of the institution has to be viewed in terms of student success, and the teachers and administration cannot be said to be successful if the students themselves are not successful. So everybody at all of the different levels of the organization, no matter what their formal authority level might be, play a leadership role: they all must work towards helping the students to fulfill their growth and learning objectives.
Overall, the community college environment is unique because it not only seeks to facilitate the needs of the students, but of the community as well. This means that servant leadership is all the more important. The students, when they exit the college, will become members of the community. What Greenleaf wrote about building people so that they are ready to be servants...
So the community benefits from educational institutions that have a servant leadership perspective, because these students then go on to facilitate the excellence of others in the community. Overall, the community benefits from this in the sense that stronger people emerging from schools can pass along that strength, and will contribute more. Everybody in the community will ultimately gain from the leaders in education pursuing a path of empowering students and helping them to grow.
One of the roles that human resources plays within an organization is that it defines jobs, and sets out the success measures by which people in each position are evaluated. So human resources is a key asset in terms of servant leadership. The human resources department has to define each position with respect to its servant elements, and furthermore the success measures for each position should be defined along those same lines -- a teacher should be measured based on the transformation that his or her students undergo as part of the educational experience. This means learning, but also the other elements of growth. The more fully-actualized people are, the better job the servant leader has done.
What this means is that from a functional point-of-view, servant leadership is something that human resources has to help define as a core philosophy. The servant leadership philosophy has to be embedded in the HR function, so that the HR department can ensure that the principles of servant leadership are dispersed throughout the rest of the organization as well. Furthermore, human resources will take these principles and apply them to the hiring process, so that they are looking for people who are inclined towards serving, rather than people who are interested in their own personal success. Those who are naturally inclined towards serving will buy into the servant leadership culture that the organization is defining. Thus, it is important for human resources to look for those who are inclined towards servant leadership in order to ensure that there is a high level of organization buy-in with respect to the principles of servant leadership.
I would ask people in charge of human resources what other ways that their department can contribute to servant leadership. Human resources as a department exists to serve the needs of the organization and of the people who work within the organization. For an educational institution like a community college, meeting those needs is essential to helping all of the employees meet the needs of the students.
Greenleaf's servant leadership is about serving others, not about the leader. The leader is essentially a facilitator, someone who is oriented towards others and does whatever is necessary to bring about positive outcomes in them. The philosophy of servant leadership is a natural for education, because educators are naturally serving the interests of the students. At the community college, the community is also a stakeholder, and the community benefits from leaders who are focused on making students better. Taking straight from the words of Robert Greenleaf, it is easy to see this high level of alignment between servant leadership and education.
One of the challenges, however, is to implement servant leadership in an educational organization such as a community college. Servant leadership is something that needs to be implemented throughout the organization -- it is not just something for the head of the organization but is a philosophy that needs to be built into the organization at all levels in order to be at its most effective. The human resources department can play a critical role in this, because that is where jobs are designed, and how evaluations are determined. For example, if an instructor is evaluated on his/her performance, this is not implementing the principles of servant leadership; the performance of those being served is the natural outcome that should be measured. So human resources is a key facilitator of servant leadership, as they should be, as well as every other department at the college. Human resources also helps to identify people who will make great servants, and put them in positions where their service is most useful for the students.
If servant leadership is implemented throughout the organization, then this will be to the benefit of the students, and ultimately to the community at large. Given that the students and the community are the two most important stakeholders for a community college, this highlights the powerful role that servant leadership can play in making for a better community, and why it…
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