January 18, 2018

The 4 Key Attributes of Servant Leaders

Dave Kelly - Servant Leadershp

In my Building Leaders Through Service (BLTS) program I talk to student leaders about not just being a leader to benefit just themselves but to benefit and serve others. As a leader that includes working with others and recognizing their abilities. All of my programs emphasize the development of “servant leadership” qualities in students but BLTS in particular outlines the four key areas that define the attributes of servant leaders. These areas are: Dignity of the Individual; Sacrifice and Integrity; Recognition of Values and Vision; and Responsible Stewardship. Theses attributes help create the distinction between “service” and “serve us.” Here’s a little more detail about each of those areas.

Real leaders don’t ask… “What’s in it for me?”
they ask… “How can I serve you?”

1. Dignity of the individual

Leaders need to respect the dignity of other people. As a leader you should give them attention, focus, support, trust and show them that they are a valuable part of your organization, project or activity and that their involvement has value.

You can also respect the dignity of each individual by being a good listener, by addressing conflict as it occurs and by either trying to avoid conflict and drama or if unable to do so deal with it in a fair and equitable way. It’s your job to make sure that everybody feels as though they’ve been heard and to create a win-win scenario for anyone involved in any kind of conflict.

It also means that as leaders we lift other people up and put them above ourselves. Check out this 60 second commercial as a great example of a group of guys giving dignity to their friend. (and no… I’m not endorsing drinking beer, it’s just a great commercial!)

2. Sacrifice and Integrity

Leaders have to take risks. Not the kind of risk like bungie jumping, but you have to be able to step outside of your comfort zone and that’s taking a risk. Leaders have to understand that sometime you’ll have to do things that are outside your comfort zone or things that you’re afraid to do but you do them anyway because the group needs you to lead and because it will make you a better person. You just have to understand that obstacles are not roadblocks they’re just barriers and you have to get through them, around them, over them, whatever. You have to make the sacrifice in order to be a true leader and to move the organization forward.

It also means that you show genuine generosity and compassion without judging other people. It’s the idea of giving and giving because you want to, not because somebody else is watching you.

You have to have a level of integrity in that if you do show sacrifice then others will trust that you will lead with integrity. They will trust you to be their leader and trust you with their resources, their organization and their project.

I have trained at schools who have a service project in conjunction with my program and I am always given the option to participate or not. I always participate because I can’t stand up here and talk about service for three hours and then go back to my hotel room and take a nap while everybody else goes to serve. That’s not having integrity.

3. Recognition of Values and Vision

Leaders have to know what’s important to them and what they value. When I was in the mortgage business my most important professional value was “integrity is not negotiable.” And I approached every single day that I worked in that business from the perspective of that value. I would ask myself if what I am going to do the right thing to do… is it correct? Is it going to harm anybody? Will I be embarrassed by it if someone catches me doing something that I shouldn’t be doing? I would never do anything no matter what the financial benefit that would compromise my integrity or my values. Because once you lose it I don’t think you can get it back.

As a servant leader you must recognize what’s important and decide what are your “non-negotiables.” What are the boulders that you will stand upon and say, “I’m not going to compromise no matter what I have to sacrifice.” Fortunately we don’t often get called to make and ultimate sacrifice, but at some point you’ve got to know what is your top priority and what are you not willing to bend on.

You also got to have a vision for what you want to do. As an example, my vision for BLTS has been for this program to engage as many college students as possible in service to their communities and their campuses. That vision motivated me and let me know what I wanted my legacy to be. If you don’t have that as a servant leader you will literally wander in the wilderness.

If you’re not sure how to put your your vision together find someone who can help you, coach you and mentor you into putting your vision into affect. I had a coach who talked to me and encouraged me to develop this servant leadership mission and it’s made all the difference.

4. Responsible Stewardship

As leaders we are given great responsibility and we have to find ways to use our abilities and our talents – and the abilities and talents of the other people in our organizations – in the best way possible. We have to live our commitment to service, express it on a daily basis and be responsible for the resources you are given charge of – even in the simplest ways. We are responsible for and to the organization, the school, the legacy, the budget and more that we have been put in charge of. We are responsible for taking care of it and passing it on in better condition that when we were given it.

I like tell the story of a cadet from the coast guard academy (Victoria Stephens) who was giving me a tour of the campus and really impacted me with her actions. She was in her dress whites and as we walked along she kept stopping to pick up pieces of trash. I finally asked her if she was required to do this as a cadet but she said, “No. I’ve just always done this. I feel that if I just pick up on piece of trash every day at the end of the year that’s 365 less pieces of trash in the world.” That to me was about being a responsible steward. So I encourage people to serve daily and to share their service commitment. My guess is she’s still committed to that act to this day.

Being a responsible steward can be as simple and easy as picking up trash. It doesn’t cost anything. Anybody can do it and it doesn’t take a lot of time. But the cool thing is once you do it you’re going to want to do it again.

About the Author: Dave "Gonzo" Kelly (64 Posts)

Dave Kelly is the leading authority on student leadership and community service on college campuses today. As a professional trainer, motivator, and servant leader, Dave is an expert on all aspects of running and leading campus organizations and developing the character of a servant leader. Dave has 20+ years training leaders and advisors from student government associations, campus activities boards and campus clubs of every kind on organizational leadership and community service projects. He has trained students and advisors at more than 150 different colleges and universities and is the national coordinator for the APCA Serves! Initiative by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities.


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