In theory ... Servant-leadership

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

A little book has just been published called Servant-Leadership that will probably go unnoticed by most managers. But if you've got a spare half hour, it's worth picking up and perusing. It's about a management theory of the same title. "True leaders must also be servants," it explains. "Great leaders must serve their communities and earn loyalty by involvement rather than imposition." It's a collection of short essays by various experts offering their thoughts on servant-leadership.

No, it's not an Upstairs, Downstairs take on management. Don't go thinking that, as the boss, you're justified in lording it over your team members. They are not your minions or your servants, no matter how desperate you are to have someone make your tea and polish your shoes every day. Servant-leadership is all about you as the manager being a servant to your followers. "Servant-leadership is not a set of techniques or guidelines to improve productivity or even to make people's working lives better," says the book. "It is something you do because you believe it is right. You do it because it's the natural thing to do."

One of the contributors to the book is Henry Stewart, founder and chief executive of Happy, an IT training company. His enlightened approach to management has been lauded by many. The company's guiding principle is "people work best when they feel good about themselves". This boils down to a manager creating a framework where people feel valued and motivated. In other words, being a servant-leader primarily means giving your team members the support and encouragement they need to do their very best.

This might be a lesson taken from business, but charities can learn much from this management approach. It's wise to remember, for example, that you are only as good as the people around you. If you can create a culture based on trust and respect, then only good things can ensue. And after all, couldn't we all do with a strong dose of positivity?

- Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today.

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