The idea of being a servant leader is not new. In fact, Jesus admonished his disciples that if they wanted to become leaders, they must learn to be servants of all people. In the 1970s, however, Robert Greenleaf, executive at AT&T, coined the phrase “servant leadership" to describe a method of leading businesses and corporations.
Later, Greenleaf defined servant leadership as someone who, at any level within the organization, leads by meeting the needs of the team. When you own a home-based, no-employee business, how does this idea play out?
James A. Autry, author of “The Servant Leader" says that true leadership takes place on the inside. Your commitment to inspire the best in others is the foundation of servant leadership and relationship building. He goes on to say that no matter how efficient or technologically skilled a presentation is, if its foundation is sub-standard, its research shoddy, or its materials inferior, no amount of colorful graphics or videos will make it anything other than what it is–sub-standard. The servant leader creates a personal ethic that recognizes true value rather than slick cover-ups.
The first place to reveal servant leadership qualities is to offer the client more than what he is asking for. If your goal is to be a servant leader, seeking to add value to your clients is a great place to begin. Often, a client does not know exactly what he needs. Try to understand his ultimate goal. Then devise ways to add value to what you offer him by meeting both his stated needs and his underlying desires. If, for example, your client needs a new logo, take the time to explain what the right logo can do for him beyond being colorful on his business cards. Imaging, branding, and association can increase his bottom line. With careful attention to what his logo can do, rather than just creating a glitzy design that makes you look good, you add value and serve his needs.
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Another area in which a small business owner can become a servant leader is in collaboration with vendors. Rather than just looking for the lowest price, find out what that vendor needs or wants to increase his business. Then, offer to help her get what she wants along with what you need. Sometimes a vendor needs more exposure. Offer to display her company name as a collaborator or project partner. Balance the needs of your client and the needs of your vendor to see that they both get a great deal. For example, if your printer can get a better deal on a certain size paper, and your client can work within that size, you can facilitate both sides by designing what will improve the bottom line for both.
Since a home-based business owner may not be able to practice servant leadership "on the job," he should look for ways to serve others. One way is to volunteer in an area outside his profession so that there isn’t a "perceived" benefit to his business. So, rather than an accountant practicing servant leadership by giving away accounting services, he could coach a Special Olympics team or pack disaster kits in a warehouse.