“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” -Robert K. Greenleaf
In the heart of our mission lies the transformative power of leadership, that everyone can be and is a leader. There are many types and styles of leadership, and within the Wild Project, we pay particular attention to servant leadership. A servant leader prioritizes the needs and well-being of others, emphasizing empathy, collaboration, and the empowerment of those they lead. Servant leaders serve their teams rather than expecting their teams to serve them. This approach to leadership was popularized by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader,” and has since gained widespread recognition as an effective and ethical leadership model.
What does it mean to be a better leader for transformative change today, inspired by the time-tested principles of servant leadership?
🤝 Empathy First
To enact change, we must first understand the needs and experiences of those we serve. Empathy is the cornerstone of servant leadership. It’s about actively listening, putting ourselves in others’ shoes, and responding with genuine compassion. To act with empathy requires us to take a step back from our ego and genuinely care for others.
🔄 Lead by Example
True leaders don’t just talk about change – they embody it. Leading by example means living out the values and ideals you promote. It inspires others to follow suit and creates a ripple effect of positive transformation. Your authenticity shines through your values and others take note.
🌱 Foster Growth
A key aspect of servant leadership is nurturing the growth and development of your team. Encourage their learning, provide opportunities for skill-building, and empower them to take on leadership roles themselves. Be sure to ask plenty of questions to make sure you’re understanding your team needs – not what you think your team needs. When your team thrives, so does your cause.
🤗 Inclusivity Matters
Transformational change requires diverse perspectives and voices. Inclusivity means creating an environment where everyone feels heard and valued, regardless of their background or identity. This principle does not mean ignoring the diverse identities of others (see “color blindness” for example), but rather making space for everyone’s authentic selves to shine through. Embrace diversity as a strength.
💪 Shared Vision
A leader’s vision should be a collective one. Collaboratively define the goals and aspirations of your group, ensuring that everyone feels invested in the mission. Even if you aren’t able to collaborate on foundational organizational values, you can create team norms and behaviors that exemplify the values. A shared vision fosters unity and commitment.
Effective communication is the glue that holds transformation together. Be transparent, honest, and open in your interactions. Keep everyone informed about progress, challenges, and opportunities for involvement. “Bad” news shouldn’t be kept secret – share it rather as an opportunity for growth and exploration.
As servant leaders, we must ensure the sustainability of our efforts. Consider the long-term impact of your actions, and seek solutions that are not only effective today but also enduring. Temporary solutions are just that – temporary. Be willing to put in time and effort to ensure the efforts of your hard work are here to impact future generations.
Change often faces resistance and setbacks. A resilient leader remains steadfast in the face of adversity, learning from failures and adapting to challenges with grace and determination. A servant leader will have developed a strong team to help support them during the hard times – do not be afraid to lean on your team when the going gets tough.
Express gratitude regularly. Acknowledge the contributions of your team, partners, and supporters. Gratitude not only strengthens relationships but also fuels the collective spirit for change. Within this expression, practice genuine gratitude for yourself and others. Journaling, reflecting, and talking with others helps process and deepen gratitude.
As we embark on this journey of transformative change, remember that leadership is not about having power over others; it’s about empowering others. It’s about service, empathy, and a relentless commitment to making the world a better place. Together, as servant leaders, we can turn our collective vision into a reality.
Do you want to dig in deeper to these leadership practices? Sign up for a Wild workshop, where you’ll receive even more knowledge on how to bring your community together and achieve lasting change.