A spate of organisational failures and mis-steps highlights the shortcomings of power leaders (corporate kingpins who operate on some elevated plane and go unchallenged for years) and self-serving leaders (who do well personally while their operations go to the dogs).
Most women find it hard to ‘man up’ and embrace hard-driving, hard-nosed leadership styles. Now they don’t have to.
Increasing focus, worldwide and locally, falls on the advantages of servant leadership.
The concept has been discussed for more than a generation by business gurus and corporate consultants. Simply put, servant leaders are there to serve the people and the organization. Rule through fear or hierarchy is out. Rule through shared purpose and teamwork is in.
Most women have to make few adjustments when adopting this leadership style. Traditional roles as a mother and the pivotal figure in the household give them a head start.
A key characteristic of servant leadership is listening skill. Any woman with children knows the importance of listening and absorbing information from several sources at once while being a calming influence.
Children with a problem want mother to fix it. Subordinates with problems want the same. The servant leader responds by getting them to open up, share perspectives, look at options and together decide the way forward.
Leaders like this are not there to further their own agenda. They are happy to meet the needs of others. Peers and subordinates go to them to tap their knowledge, experience and skills, which the leader is happy to share.
A servant leader (like mother) shows empathy. This type of leader is accessible. Insights are shared. Feedback is constant. Suggestions can be made and ideas debated. No one worries about who gets the credit (or blame) as the team and the wider corporate vision are more important than individual ego.
Servant leaders lead by example, not by dominating every meeting and conversation.
Just like mum, the servant leader knows you cannot say one thing and do another – the kids notice and credibility suffers. So, you go the extra mile and put yourself out, knowing that subordinates are more inclined to put in long days and nights when they know the boss does the same.
The leader draws on an inner belief in excellence; that only the best will do.
Leadership by example ensures this culture is quietly instilled.
Mothers know they are rearing the next generation. They take pride in every accomplishment notched up by their offspring.
Servant leaders are much the same. They are happy to share power by encouraging others to take responsibility for delivery in this area or that. When success is achieved, they are delighted to acknowledge the team’s contribution.
Servant leaders are resilient and reliable. They get the job done without fuss and fanfare. In so many respects, they are just what South Africa needs … and a high proportion of them will be women.