Servant Leader Principle #5 – Persuasion

Servant leaders rely on persuasion rather than authority in making decisions. Servant leaders seek to convince others rather than forcing them.

BSA NYLT Syllabus, module Servant Leadership

Persuasion, defined as a drawing toward, or pushing toward a goal, is the first element in our principles that highlights the leader functions of the servant leader. All others (listening, empathy, healing, awareness) fall more over to the servant side of the balance.

Traditional leadership methods generally work from a top-down power flow, allowing this type of leader to issue commands. This seems like an effective way to coordinate results, and it is a leadership style widely used.

Servant leaders, however, rarely reach for this style, choosing the harder work of bringing others along in a convincing way. Like a flywheel, it starts slowly, and builds momentum – momentum that continues long after force is applied.

The Primary Leading

Spears points out that this persuasion default is the primary difference between servant leaders and other authority models:

Another characteristic of servant leaders is reliance on persuasion, rather than on one’s positional authority, in making decisions within an organization. The servant leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance. This particular element offers one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant leadership. The servant leader is effective at building consensus within groups.

Larry Spears Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders

Getting everyone aligned is a patient, sometimes grueling task. Very rarely does a group automatically line up , but I have been part of groups that do line up quickly, pointing at a servant leader who has been consistently and masterfully pursing this alignment. These servant leaders I see as giving a rudder pressure to the group; like an oil tanker turning, it takes turning the wheel and waiting to achieve results.

Leading from the Back

Like all disciplines in servant leadership, this is part of the humble shaping of the group. It never calls attention to the servant leader, and allows the group to own their destiny. There lies its power – when success is proven, all praise goes to the group.

At the end of the day, the servant leader has the grounding to know his influence is helping, healing, and building, allowing others to shine. It is a substantial leader that can support this without calling attention back – but worthy of pursuit!

2 thoughts on “Servant Leader Principle #5 – Persuasion”

  1. Well done, Dave. While it is clear that “The servant leader is effective at building consensus within groups” I am grateful for your reminder “Getting everyone aligned is a patient … task. “

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