The Five Disciplines of Servant Leadership

August 1, 2011

In Blanchard’s work with culture clients, a key part of a successful culture initiative is the transition of the senior leader from a self-serving leader to a servant leader. Self-serving leadership is, unfortunately, a very strongly modeled approach to influencing others in Western society. Servant leadership is gaining strength – and high-performance, values-aligned cultures require it from their senior leaders.

In my work as a process coach for senior leaders, a clear pattern has emerged. In every single case, senior leaders that embrace servant leadership generate tremendous traction on their desired culture. Those that do not embrace servant leadership enjoy much less benefit to the culture process.

In Blanchard’s Servant Leadership Immersion program for senior leaders, we focus on the practice of servant leadership. We must build the right habits, and there is nothing like discipline to create effective habits.

  • Solitude
    Discipline one requires that you are out of human contact, alone and present, for intentional, lengthy periods of time. Silence of mind and spirit is an essential component of solitude. Therefore, during time of solitude, no talking, no writing, no doing.
    This is a difficult discipline to embrace in our fast-paced society. Yet quieting the mind and spirit, reflecting in the moment, recharges, clarifies, and enables us.
  • Rest
    Discipline two is about getting enough rest, enough sleep, to be able to be present to the opportunities for servant leadership that surround us. Sleep deprivation is a huge negative factor today that inhibits good relationships, strong performance, and healthy lifestyles.
  • Structure
    Discipline three is about creating structure to enable clear, proactive communication between you and your direct reports. To serve them well, you must provide the behavior they need, whether it is guidance, “hands-off”-ness, support, encouragement, etc.
    This discipline can work wonders in your personal relationships, too – increasing your servant leadership effectiveness with spouse, children, inspiring friends, etc.
  • Love
    Discipline four is about creating space for and demonstration of genuine acceptance and appreciation for those you work with (and live with and engage with) on a daily basis. Accept who you are, what you’re trying to be (vision & values), and what you do well and not so well. You are OK exactly how you are.Be loving of those around you – catch them doing things right. Be aware of the messaging you provide to others.
    Most workplace messaging is overwhelmingly negative: “You did that wrong.” “That effort just isn’t good enough.” You will create a very positive and powerful dynamic by delivering more accepting and appreciative messages of people’s efforts.Yes, they must perform. And, most staff are doing quite a lot RIGHT. They just never hear about those things – they hear only about those things they’re doing WRONG.
  • Truth
    Discipline five is a very specific and very important “alignment” structure for your efforts to demonstrate authentic servant leadership. Leadership is a lonely role; we can easily slip into convenient rationalizations and blind spots regarding how well we “walk our talk.”
    A small, intimate accountability group – made up of people who are not directly impacted by our leadership actions – can serve as powerful, trusted “truth tellers” to help us understand the true impact of our behaviors and decisions.

These disciplines can help you shift from self-serving leadership behaviors to servant leadership behaviors. The core role of leaders is TO SERVE. Our organizations need foundations of mutual trust and respect. Creating servant leadership habits can change you and your organization for the better.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

S. Chris Edmonds

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Chris is a sought-after speaker and executive consultant with his own firm and with @kenblanchard. He is the author of Leading At A Higher Level and three other books, and a @jonesandraine band member.
  • http://knowledgebishop.com Tristan Bishop

    Hi Chris,

    This is one of the most concise and powerful posts I’ve seen. I love it. You’ve given me some terrific advice this morning and I’m grateful!

    Tristan

    • http://performance-values.com Chris Edmonds

      Thank you so much, Tristan – very kind. This one came from the heart!

      Cheers!

      C.

  • http://www.achievedstrategies.com/blog Shawn Murphy

    Chris,
    So happy to see Solitude and Love on the list. Not that the two are more important than the others. In fact they all are deeply connected to each other. Solitude is sorely lacking in the personal schedules of many senior leaders, yet it’s critical time for reflecting on interactions, thoughts, others’ comments, and so forth. It gives a leader time to be more present to Love.

    The training sounds intense and greatly needed. Good work, Chris.
    Shawn

    • http://performance-values.com Chris Edmonds

      Thanks for your insights, Shawn. I believe senior leaders DO so much every day that they might be afraid of solitude – they might miss a “critical” email . Being centered and present always creates more effective leadership – and more committed followership. Hopefully we’re chipping away at lousy senior leader behaviors!

      Cheers!

      C.

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    • http://performance-values.com Chris Edmonds

      Thanks so much for sharing my post, Jason!

      Cheers!

      C.

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    • http://performance-values.com Chris Edmonds

      Thanks for the fine recommendation, gang -

      Cheers!

      C.

  • http://ModernServantLeader.com Ben Lichtenwalner

    Chris,

    You and the Ken Blanchard Companies do a great deal to spread servant leadership awareness and adoption. Thank you for this and all you do. One follow up question: Is there anywhere we can find more on this model and the five disciplines? You mentioned the Servant Leadership Immersion program, but are there any other posts online or books that delve deeper into this framework?

    Thank you and keep serving!

  • http://www.thinkbeyond.co.nz Cheryl Doig

    As always Chris, your points are well made. I agree that all five are important and know that solitude has particular power. The one I would love to hear more about from you is ‘Truth’ and the notion of blindspots. The ability to seek feedback from a group of individuals on a regular basis can be really powerful. I’m wondering if you have any examples of how a ‘small intimate accountability group’ has worked effectively and what advice you would give to someone wanting to set up such a group.

    • http://performance-values.com Chris Edmonds

      Thank you for your kind words, Cheryl – always good to hear from you. The “intimate accountability group” might be a great blog post here sometime. I can share a few insights in this short space.

      Ken Blanchard has had an accountability group of 6 men for over 12 years. The group was specifically chartered after recruiting suitable “servant leaders” to take on the role with each other. They meet regularly – at least monthly – and each shares what they are working on currently. Others share 1:1 conversations they’ve had to coach others, help keep them on track with their desired valued behaviors. VERY powerful.

      The key is to identify select folks who 1) have a servant heart, 2) will engage in coaching conversations willingly and regularly and 3) will stay involved for the long haul (1-2 years or longer). A small team of 3-4 is a great place to start – managing 7-8 is a much more complicated venture.

      Helpful?

      Cheers!

      C.

  • Yohannes Affandy Siregar

    That’s so right! Thank you Chris for giving me new perspective on being a leader. Even though I haven’t been a senior leader yet, I believe it’s applicable too in my position as a leader of a small group.

    Solitude, Rest, Structure, Love, Truth are all five disciplines… Don’t forget the last word: discipline. It’s trained. Every night and day.

    • http://performance-values.com Chris Edmonds

      Thanks for your thoughts, Yohannes! Any leader at any level will benefit from these disciplines – great job diving into these.

      Cheers!

      C.

  • Grace

    I’m so inspired by this post. So often I look around me and I don’t see this model of leadership in practice. I have two mentors at my company that practice it, but in my day to day interactions, I’m surrounded by people that don’t. This post encourages me to continue to strive to serve, despite the lack of examples in my immediate work group.
    Solitude (specifically as it relates to leadership at work) is something I’ve used with much success in the past, but I haven’t made time for it in the last couple of months. This is a powerful reminder. Love resonates so powerfully with me and I thank you for framing it the way you did. Keep up the terrific work!

    • http://performance-values.com Chris Edmonds

      I appreciate your insights, Grace! The observable difference between servant leaders and self-serving leaders is a huge one. Servant leadership is needed now, more than ever!

      Cheers!

      C.

  • Kunle

    Chris, thanks for sharing this.

    These disciplines are things we kind of know but never put to practice. This article will help me pick up myself again and follow through with these actions. I could not agree more with the discipline of Solitude. The need for quieting the mind…
    I have noticed that depriving myself of sleep indeed inhibits good relationships. I tend to snap a lot and stay in my little corner :( so yes rest is important for me.
    I am also learning the value of putting in place proper structure especially at home. *still need a lot of work in this area*
    The discipline of Love hit home the most. – Genuine acceptance and appreciation…. to accept who I am and my vision and values, look at the things I do well and what I dont… these words boosts my self-confidence. I know that if I can accept myself then I wouldnt struggle to accept others. Thank you.
    Truth/Accountability – I like the idea of an accountability group. I’ll try that too.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com/ S. Chris Edmonds

      Kunle, I am so pleased that you find value in the disciplines discussed. Best to you as you align your spirit, mind, and body to serve others!
      Cheers!

      C.