Servant Leadership: Mindsets need Skill sets

Deborah Stollery

Not too terribly long ago I was conversing with three people who all hold leadership positions within their organization.  We were discussing leading like Jesus did and all three of them indicated that they see themselves as servant leaders.  I was excited about their self-awareness and their willingness to declare that this is the way they not only see themselves but think others see them as well.  Fast forward about 20 minutes, and I’d heard the following comments:

  • I really struggle to make time to pray, or think.  I’m always on the go and I like it that way.
  • I’ve just now begun to try and think about everything we do being tied to the mission as it’s stated.  It seems like it all does, but to be honest, I’m not sure.  If the truth be told, I can’t always remember the mission statement.
  • There’s obviously more to being a servant leader than just my own sense of doing that.
  • I’ve never really asked anyone how they’d characterize my leadership.  But I feel like I’m a good leader, always holding out the best interest of others.

What was clear then is that their mindset was not matched by a skill set.  And they’d never really thought about what it means to focus their leadership on what it takes to enable their people to fulfill the mission.  For each of them, servant leadership had been all about being nice, not authoritarian or dictatorial, about honoring good work and correcting when necessary.  But it had not been about figuring out what they need to be able to do in order to enable the mission to advance.

Servant leaders in Catholic organizations need skills that foster communion and community, for those are constitutive of what it means to be Catholic:  self-awareness, openness to attitude change, knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews, and intercultural communication competence are all servant leader skills.  Servant leaders need to know how to collaborate themselves and how to set up collaborative systems and structures.  Skill in listening, creating safe spaces, encouragement, partnering for performance and discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit are all tied to effective servant leadership.  To foster communion and community, servant leaders must also know what it takes to foster commitment to the mission.

Servant leaders in Catholic organizations also need skills that foster their constituents’ call to serve Christ and the Church.  Those employed and volunteering in Catholic organizations are often responding to a call from the Lord to bring their expertise in direct service to the Church.  Servant leaders must know how to protect and nurture that call from the Lord.  That means they’ll need skills in maintaining a high degree of engagement with the organization.  Vision-casting and listening are two skill groups.  To this, servant leaders need to add skills in apprenticing and coaching/mentoring.

Nurturing the vocation to serve the Church also means leaders need skills in developing the gifts, talents, initiatives and inspirations within those they serve.  In today’s language, it’s called compassionate leadership.  Compassionate leaders are skilled in listening and learning from others, in communicating mindfully and strategically, and in inspiring through their own efforts.  Vocations need nurtured by leaders skilled in difficult conversations, in removing roadblocks to success, and in changing organizational structures to support mission accomplishment.

So you see, it’s not enough to say you are a servant leader.  Servant leaders have concrete skills to support their self-concept.  Want to embark on improving some of these skills for yourself or within your staff?  Contact us for a free 1 hour consultation.

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