The Servant Leader as Listener

Recently, I discovered a “servant leader” theoretical framework that has been around for many years, but is new to me. It is called “servant leadership.” Robert K. Greenleaf introduced the framework in 1970, primarily advocating a leader’s primary motivation and role is fully realized through service to others.

The framework is built upon the Ten Principles of Servant Leadership. We will focus on those principles via future blog posts in this series. It is important to note that the principles are in no particular order. All are important, and all are necessary to be an effective servant leader. In this post, we focus on the principle of listening.

Servant Leaders do not just hear you. They listen to you. They understand that “listen” is an action verb, and intentionally focus on your thoughts, your heart, your ideas, joy, pain, victories, defeats, etc. Words like “receptive” and phrases like “paying close attention” characterize the listening servant leader.

Since the servant leader exhibits other characteristics such as empathy, healing relationships, awareness, etc., he or she may simply listen without saying much of anything. By the way, sometimes people just like to be heard. By immediately going into problem-solving mode, you may think you are helping, but you may actually hinder employee progress. That is not to say you should never go into problem-solving mode, but it is wise to sometimes just listen for a while, then respond once you have the complete picture.

Listening is a challenge especially in fast-paced environments, but genuine servant leaders know that an occasional five minutes of deep-level listening may save months of looking for an employee to fill a vacant position. Or worse, an employee may show up, while being emotionally and mentally checked out. Listeningreally listeningis one of the key characteristics that keeps that from happening.

Listening is a skill. It is something we get better at the more we practice. So… practice! Sit down with an employee and ask a few simple questions:

  • How are things going?
  • Are there any obstacles you are facing that we can help you with?
  • Do you have everything you need to get your work done?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed or is your workload manageable

When employees respond, listen. Really listen. Take action as appropriate and get ready to see productivity increase. After all, if you don’t feel like anyone is listening, then how can you feel valued? The “listened to” employee knows he or she is worth his or her manager’s time. And for many people, nothing is more incentivizing than simply knowing they matter.

We will explore the principle of empathy in our next post.

Until then – Happy Training!

Greg Anderson
Written by:
Greg Anderson
Chief Learning Officer, Strategic Government Resources
Follow Greg on Twitter!@SGRGreg

3 responses

  1. The Chinese word symbol for “Listening” includes not only the symbol for “Ears” but also includes the symbols for “Eyes” and “Heart”. It is a core part of Chinese writing, philosophy and culture that listening is automatically empathetic “fully involved” listening.
    Servant Leaders excel at Chinese Listening.

    1. Wow. Great supplemental information, David! Thanks for your frequent feedback.

  2. […] the last post, we reviewed the characteristic of listening as central to servant leadership. In this post, we […]

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