Servant Leadership: Moving from Mindset to Skill Set


“A servant leadership mindset is all about focusing on others rather than yourself,” says bestselling business author Ken Blanchard. As part of research for a new book, Servant Leadership in Action, Blanchard had an opportunity to explore both the mindset and the skill set needed for leaders interested in adopting an others-focused approach to leadership.

“The mindset is to recognize that there are two parts of servant leadership, says Blanchard. “There is the vision, direction, and goals—that’s the leadership part. Everybody needs to know where you’re going and what you’re trying to accomplish.

“The servant leadership skill set is turning that vision into action. Now you are looking at the day-to-day management behaviors people need from their leader to succeed.”

Blanchard shares some examples:

Developing Others: “Servant leaders are always preparing people to be their own boss by helping them own their job and be in charge. This means identifying a direct report’s development level and providing the direction and support they need to grow and develop.”

Delegating: “Servant leaders first make sure that people know what the goals are. Then they turn the organizational pyramid and the reporting relationships upside down. They ask questions like How can I help? and What can I do to make a difference to help you accomplish your goals?

Directing Others: “It’s not really about directing them,” says Blanchard. “It’s about helping them. Sometimes when people are new they need clear direction—it is a temporary leadership behavior to help someone take ownership of their job and get to where they want to go.”

Servant leadership is a journey, says Blanchard. It’s both a mindset and a skill set. Once you get it right on the inside you can begin to develop the skills related to goal setting and performance management. Blanchard points to two of his company’s flagship programs as examples of how servant leadership principles can be taught as a part of a larger leadership development curriculum.

“In many ways, servant leadership is the overarching theme that covers the concepts of two of our most popular programs: SLII® and First-time Manager.

“For example, SLII® has three skills that generate both great relationships and results: goal setting, diagnosis, and matching. Notice that the first skill is goal setting. All good performance starts with clear goals—which, for a manager, are clearly part of the leadership aspect of servant leadership.

“Once clear goals are set, an effective situational leader works with their direct report to diagnose the direct report’s development level—competence and commitment—on each specific goal. Then together they determine the appropriate leadership style—the amount of directive and supportive behavior—that will match the person’s development level on each goal. That way the manager can help them accomplish their goals—the servant aspect of servant leadership. The key here is for managers to remember they must use different strokes for different folks but also different strokes for the same folks, depending on the goal and the person’s development level.

“In our First-time Manager program we teach the concepts of One Minute Management. The First Secret of The One Minute Manager is setting One Minute Goals—which for a manager is part of the leadership aspect of servant leadership. Once employees are clear on goals, an effective One Minute Manager tries to catch people doing something right so that they can deliver a One Minute Praising—the Second Secret. If the person is doing something wrong or not performing as well as agreed upon, a One Minute Re-Direct is appropriate—the Third Secret. When effective One Minute Managers are praising or redirecting their employees, they are engaging in the servant aspect of servant leadership—working for their employees to help them win.

“Why are the concepts of SLII® and The One Minute Manager so widely used around the world? I think it’s because they are clear examples of servant leadership in action. Both concepts recognize that vision and direction—the leadership aspect of servant leadership—are the responsibility of the traditional hierarchy. People need to be clear on their goals. Implementation—the servant aspect of servant leadership—is all about turning the hierarchy upside down and helping employees accomplish their agreed-upon goals.”

Mindset and Skill Set

“Saying you’re a servant leader is a good start, but it is your behavior that makes it real for people,” says Blanchard. “Servant leadership is a combination of mindset and skill set that focuses on serving others first so that organizations develop great relationships, achieve great results, and delight their customers.”


About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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