What is the connection between leadership approach and negotiation? Part 1: The Servant Leader

I have recently been thinking more about different approaches and styles of leadership and how those intersect with approaches to negotiation. In this series of posts over the next few weeks I will explore that connection. One approach to leadership is servant leadership. For those who don’t know, the concept of servant leadership goes back over two thousand years, but the modern servant leadership movement was launched by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. In his seminal essay entitled The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf defined the servant-leader as:”The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.””The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

Examples of servant leadership include Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln.

According to Larry C. Spears, former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, these are the 10 most important characteristics of servant leaders:

  • Listening.
  • Empathy.
  • Healing.
  • Awareness.
  • Persuasion.
  • Conceptualization.
  • Foresight.
  • Stewardship.
  • Commitment to the growth of people.
  • Building community.

This list opens the door to think about this concept from a negotiation perspective.  There is little question that servant leadership requires skills and abilities connected with negotiation.  In particular, listening, empathy, persuasion, and others that may be needed in more contextual situations (such as healing).  However, servant leadership is also very much about sensing the needs of those around you and taking actions to meet those needs.  (This is a very important part of negotiation that does not get discussed frequently.) Taking those actions is done, without question, to meet the needs of the other. What is also important to remember is a servant leader also assesses a situation and realizes this is the best strategic approach to meet their objectives and goals.  That is something an effective negotiator must do at all times.  Knowing when to assert to meet their objectives and interests, but also when to pull back and see how best to meet the needs of the other so that they can get where they want to go.
Finally, if we think of the concept of negotiation styles (the five approaches being competing, avoiding, compromising, accommodating, and collaborating) it is a useful thought exercise to try to think of the servant leader and which approach they take.  At first blush it would appear they take an accommodating approach.  However, the more you analyze and think about what a servant leader is doing the more you realize that they are taking a collaborative approach.  They are not just serving the other, but also trying to meet their goals.

Josh Weiss

Josh Weiss

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