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How The Leadership Challenge Enables the Growth of Servant Leaders

Servant-leaders deliver their best while striving to build the capacity of coworkers to become better each day. They follow and are empowered by key philosophies and practices that support their conscious choice to serve. The underlying philosophy of Servant Leadership is respectful and participatory guidance in working towards common objectives. It is about helping a leader's team members feel valued as much as it is about achieving results. The overarching language of The Leadership Challenge (TLC) supports this philosophy across each of the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.

Both TLC and Servant Leadership emphasize seeing the unique skills individuals bring to the team and putting them in positions to succeed. The leader's success is only realized in the team's success. The leader has to understand and value the team enough to Model the Way, Inspire, Challenge, Enable and Encourage them.

Some researchers have defined Servant-Leadership as including the competencies of vision, influence, credibility, and trust. These competencies also are closely linked to the TLC model and research, and are found to be both learnable and measurable quantities. 

Other researchers would add emotional healing, creating value for the community, conceptual skills, empowering, helping subordinates grow and succeed, putting subordinates first, behaving ethically, relationships, and servant-hood as key skills and attributes of the servant leader.

Robert Greenleaf, the originator of the modern Servant Leadership model, defined 10 core competencies for servant-leaders. These 10 are the basis from which all other research, writings, and books on Servant Leadership are founded.  

  1. Authentic Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Self-awareness
  5. Persuasion
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the Growth of the People
  10.  Building Community

Developing and perfecting these competencies involves a deliberate, long term developmental process. An emerging servant-leader understands and behaves in a manner consistent with improving along these 10 dimensions with each leadership opportunity. That these opportunities are available every day makes the learning process a constant, incremental endeavor.

An overarching framework for developing leaders to support these same competencies can be found in The Leadership Challenge developed by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. In more than 30 years of research and exploration on describing leading behaviorally, they have uncovered Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership that appear to be present in people that others would willingly follow.

  • Model the Way
  • Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Challenge the Process
  • Enable Others to Act
  • Encourage the Heart

Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders

Each of these practices is supported by six specific behaviors that, when used more frequently, lead to exceptional results. The 30 specific behaviors (six for each of the five practices) can be effectively measured by the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI). This 360-degree assessment identifies how often a leader is seen engaging in these behaviors.

Kouzes and Posner’s research into leadership shows that the frequency with which a leader is seen using these behaviors is what makes the difference in their effectiveness. Measuring frequency rather than how well or poorly a leader performs makes the LPI more actionable for true development. This instrument, when used in conjunction with The Leadership Challenge Workshop, can help a leader see how they are currently perceived and how they can grow and become a better servant leader for their people.

The LPI has helped over a million leaders develop better self–awareness of their actions and the impact that those actions have on others. The fact that the LPI offers the feedback from the leader’s manager, peers, direct reports and others to provide a measure of the development of a leader is a way to honor members of the team and provide insight to how I am serving them. What those we serve think of how we lead matters for them, the leader and the organization.

The 30 behaviors can also be a blueprint for what a leader needs to do more frequently to become more effective as a servant-leader. The behaviors are designed to be outward-facing and focused on how the leader supports the team and organization. The research indicates that as a leader demonstrates the 30 behaviors more frequently, many positive outcomes are attained. The more frequently a leader is seen using these behaviors, the more they are perceived as:

  • Having a high degree of credibility
  • Being able to increase motivation levels
  • Building a high performance team
  • Fostering loyalty and commitment
  • Improved engagement among the team

Servant Leadership coupled with The Leadership Challenge is a wonderful foundation for developing the people and culture of an organization. The idea that you need to serve your people first has been demonstrated throughout history. In order to help leaders understand how to put that into daily actions to support their people, the framework of The Leadership Challenge provides an actionable road map. It provides a common language to identify the behaviors that will lead to lasting improvement in how we serve our staff. Putting these behaviors into your repertoire and practicing them continually, improving continually, will allow leaders to be better servant leaders.

The Leadership ChallengeUniversities are aware of the same challenge of creating a common behavioral framework for their students., In the Organizational Leadership with a certificate in Servant Leadership program at Gonzaga University, the teachings of Kouzes and Posner and The Leadership Challenge are employed in multiple courses to provide an understandable definition of the specific actions a leader takes to grow into a servant-leader throughout their career.

The strong linkage between The Leadership Challenge and Servant-Leadership is one of the reasons that Barry Posner currently sits on the editorial board of the International Journal of Servant-Leadership.

Evans Kerrigan
Evans Kerrigan
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