Understanding Servant Leadership

The term “leader” conjures many ideas to different people, but without question, the most effective form of leadership comes in the form of “servant leadership.”  The juxtaposition of “service” and “leadership” in the same breath seems counterintuitive, but the terms really do go hand-in-hand.  Local leadership expert Tracey Buck explained that, “Servant leadership is something anyone can do – it’s not exclusive to managers, directors, or those in positions of authority.  It begins in the heart and is rooted in acts of service.

“In our world, it’s easy to take,” Tracey continued.  “But being a servant leader is an intentional decision to give.”

Tracey’s voice of authority began over a decade ago when she started teaching professionals how to make more money.  “Through the instructional training process, I found that people were more successful and far more inspired when I shared heart-warming stories that talked about giving to others.  What began with one idea, evolved into something much bigger (and better!). What’s really amazing though, is that when we stop focusing on ‘what’s in it for me,’ we reap greater success and benefits… and that does eventually translate to financial success as well.”

But to get started, Tracey advises that servant leadership begins with gratitude.  “Every morning has to start with a spirit of thankfulness,” said Tracey.  “We have to be grateful for the world around us and the blessings we enjoy.  While some may find this exercise easier than others, perseverance is key.  There is always, always, always something to be thankful for!”

In addition to gratitude, Tracey advises that we look inward.  “The only person who you can truly change is yourself,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t help each other change for the better.  It’s easy to blame others and find faults in people, but at the end of the day, our reactions are our own choices.  And generally, when we look for the good in every individual, rather than criticizing their faults, special things can happen.  I like to encourage others to, ‘Look for the spark in each person they meet.’”

Tracey continued, “The greatest success a leader will ever know is through personal service and a willingness to invest in another person.  By doing so, we can change lives.  It’s like throwing a rock into a still pond.  The ripple effect radiates outward, and it starts with a single splash. I can only imagine how much better things would be in this world if more people embraced that truth.”

She speaks from a voice of experience.  “My career is in the Great Clips industry, and a stylist had the courage to approach me and tell me that one day, she wanted my job.  A servant leader isn’t intimidated by that kind of admission, because they, too, are looking ahead.  I embraced her goal!  And within two years, I watched her go from stylist to assistant manager, to store manager, to general manager, and when it was time to move on from my position, she was ready to step into the role.  And I couldn’t be more proud of her success than if it were my own!  Because in a way, it is my success.  There was a spark in her, and through honest feedback and coaching, we created a flame!”

Servant leadership is purposeful goodness and a willingness to look for and nurture the good in others. It’s a basic faith in humanity and a desire to put others above self.  Tracey suggests, “Look at the five closest people in your life.  Are they the type of people who are competitive and self-serving?  Or are they sincere in their willingness to celebrate another’s success?  Are they encouragers?  Are they willing to nurture the talents of another person?  The simple truth is – the company we keep matters. Servant leaders have to surround themselves with those who are also servant leaders.  Otherwise, negativity will infiltrate like a toxic poison.”

Servant leadership includes kindness, even in the middle of difficult situations.  “Even when we have to deliver bad news or correct someone,” Tracey said, “it can be – and should be – done in kindness.  It’s what takes negative experiences and turns them into positive wins.”

“But the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned about servant leadership,” said Tracey, “came from my mother. She told me that we should serve the most when we feel like doing it the least.  She told me that was when we could make the biggest impact on our personal lives.  And what can I say?  Mom was right.”


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