Most people think that to be a good leader; you have to be authoritarian and demanding. But there is another way to lead, and it’s called the servant leadership approach. With this style of leadership, the focus is on working with others as a team to achieve common goals. This type of leadership requires trust, communication, and collaboration. And it can be very effective in building relationships and motivating people to do their best work, especially in ministry.
Your chosen style could increase your chances of success. Research shows that servant leadership is usually more productive than authoritative models. More important, Jesus points us in this direction: “The greatest among you must be a servant.” Matthew 23:11
What is servant leadership exactly? It’s a form of governance that shares power and encourages input. Management studies show that it can enhance outcomes and increase job satisfaction and morale. It’s the difference between giving orders and building consensus.
For example, consider two different approaches to an office move. First, a more autocratic leader might pick the new location and give employees a list of tasks to complete.
On the other hand, a servant leader would form a team to review possible sites and allow employees to discuss the final candidates and coordinate logistics.
A servant leader is more collaborative. Being a more collaborative leader can help your relationships and work environment. Try out these suggestions to see results in your business or ministry.
Maximizing the Advantages of Servant Leadership:
1. Earn trust.
For a servant leadership workplace to flourish, colleagues must trust their leader and each other. That requires confidence in each other’s character and abilities. In addition, sincerity and transparency are essential. It means that you can’t just have 90% of the conversation, talk about the last 10%, which is usually the hard stuff.
2. Pull together.
Close communication draws a team together. Employees and volunteers are more likely to develop strong and healthy professional relationships and maybe even socialize more outside of work through sincere fellowship.
3. Increase engagement.
Recent Gallup polls show employee engagement is the lowest in 20 years. Fifty-four percent of employees say they are psychologically unattached to their work and do the minimum in the world of ministry; that’s a big problem. Our teams can only thrive when they are engaged as a part of the family of God. Giving employees and volunteers, a greater voice can increase their commitment.
4. Celebrate diversity.
One of the greatest strengths of participative leadership is welcoming contributions from team members with various talents and backgrounds. Approaching challenges from many different perspectives usually create more effective solutions. And it gives a more unified ministry approach that is multi-generational.
5. Reward innovation.
The free flow of ideas is another benefit. When you create a safe environment for discussion, employees and volunteers are more likely to propose ideas to help your ministry.
Overcoming Obstacles to Servant Leadership:
1. Clarify your vision.
Motivating and inspiring your team becomes even more important when you expect them to make more significant contributions. You need a clear mission that God is leading you in and a vision that aligns with the core values of your ministry. Scheduling regular one-on-one time and providing adequate resources also helps to clarify the vision in the hearts and minds of your team.
2. Teach communication skills.
With so much focus on discussion, employees may need to work on their communication skills, including active listening and sharing constructive feedback. Offer training sessions and post helpful reminders around the office. Use games and exercises to make learning fun and memorable. Jesus is the most excellent communicator of all time, an area in which we, as ministry leaders, should continue to grow until we see Him face to face.
3. Plan for delays.
Another common drawback is the way group decisions usually take longer. You may need an alternative process when you’re dealing with time-sensitive matters. But, again, having a good decision-making policy will prevent this from becoming a problem.
4. Provide structure.
Planning ahead can also speed up discussions. Circulate an agenda before meetings, and allow others to give feedback on the schedule before the meetings. This allows everyone to come prepared and stick to the subject and make progress. If your meetings are unproductive, you may want to get a facilitator or use a staff member. As a church, you probably have people who make a living doing this. Let them use their gifts and talents to help you and your team get better at providing structure.
5. Set boundaries.
The servant leadership model works best with issues where your staff has at least a minimum level of expertise. You may have to limit input on some matters to those who meet specific qualifications. If you have built in your culture the idea that everyone on the team always has a seat at the table regardless of the topic, this will take some time and intentional training to change your culture.
6. Deal with dissent.
After your team gives input, what do you say to the team members whose content or ideas were not used? Or perhaps those who were in the minority in their thinking? It’s essential to make it clear that each employee or volunteer needs to be fully committed to backing the final decision. There is never a scenario where you should lead and move forward with only 100% agreement or nothing. To do so means that the one “no” person among your team leads the church.
7. Be decisive.
Even in the most democratic workplace, there will be stalemates or decisions that are ill-suited to group deliberations. You’ll still need to take responsibility for resolving sensitive issues affecting your organization’s future. Being a servant leader does not mean surrendering your authority or making decisions based on the majority rule. This goes back to the 1st and most crucial part of “Overcoming Obstacles to Servant Leadership”: “Clarify Your Vision.” As a leader, that is your primary job. You can not delegate this responsibility, and you cannot have a clear vision through consensus. After all, our mission has already been set clearly by Jesus. And our vision is led by The Holy Spirit to live it out. We must continue to be decisive based on Biblical authority.
You can develop your servant leadership skills with practice. Most importantly, with God's power and wisdom. Use them to build your team and ministry while making your work as a leader more meaningful.
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