Servanthood asks inner leaders to practice leadership because they choose to serve others (Braham, 1999). A simple, yet useful definition of service is any act, attitude, or behavior someone does that helps another person. Inner leaders help others by making available to them needed information, time, attention, material, or other resources. They also help by focusing their time and attention on work-community purposes that give meaning to the work. In effect, servant leadership invites leaders to create and facilitate a culture of follower self-leadership. It is attitude—both the leader’s and the follower’s— that determines whether an act performed helps or does not help. Given this fact about serventhood (Braham, 1999), it is therefore impossible to specify specific acts of service a leader may render to a follower outside the constraints of a specific time and place context. The situation and the present needs of the follower compel each act of service.
Preparing to serve their followers asks inner leaders to master specific skills and tasks that implement the principles of this leadership technique. The first task in mastering inner leadership centers on the principle of self and follower development. The definitional elements of inner leadership include those of caring, service, and innovation. While productivity is always a part of any leadership action, inner leaders rely for excellent performance on a vitalizing vision that unites stakeholders in synergistic service to one another. This service takes the form of a variety of tasks and skills.
A first task is setting and living a consistent set of values that honor the essential humanness of followers and challenges them to cooperative work effort. An important characteristic of inner leadership is that it presumes that leaders and followers are connected by common acceptance of a few values held about who people are and why and how they should relate to one another in social groups. This leader model puts forward a values-set honoring individual members per se upon which the work of the work community will be founded, one that is also suitable for the foreseeable future. Such a set of agreed-upon values cements the work community together and makes in-the-middle leadership success possible. The community’s values form the basis of the vision statement and all the actions inner leaders take to energize followers.
Inner leaders learn to create, promulgate, and consistently apply a vitalizing vision of what they can become through service to the work community and to their customers. The leader’s vision forms the platform upon which all interactive work-community work is done. It interprets the leader’s values set and defines the present and future values context, the intent of which is to attract community members (Klenke, 1996). Visioning comes out of the personality of the leader, but unless the vision strikes a responsive chord in the lives of stakeholders, it cannot energize and inspire cooperative action. Any effort to induce followers to attain high quality performance, effectiveness, or excellence must be conditioned by a vision that asks followers to do these things within the context of the vision’s values.
Inner leaders must become expert in developing and leading a service oriented work community and in manipulating the ambient work culture. Supporting the work community’s values-set and its guiding vision demands that leaders create and maintain a congruent cultural surround within which both leader and stakeholders can find support for actions to operationalize their service values. An effective work-community service culture includes preparation of strategic plans, setting standards of service excellence, and displacement of competing values held by some members of the community. Each of these aspects of culture management need to be placed in the context of inner leadership (as opposed to top leadership).
Inner leaders need to prepare to serve their followers by learning to relate in one-on-one relationships with followers to convey desired information, understanding, and job skills. A central need in servanthood is that leaders prepare themselves to be able to feel comfortable in situations where they and other work-community members sit together in council to share planning, policy, and decision-making activities. This is a new technique requiring the inner leader to prepare in terms of values and attitudes, as well as skills and knowledge. It presupposes a leader who respects, cares for, even loves followers. Counciling-with others can be done only as an institutional system when leaders and followers respect the essential humanness of one another and act in response to these values.
Inner leaders need to prepare to serve their followers by learning to be teachers and otherwise to communicate needed information. Preparation to serve their followers also asks inner leaders to teach followers to maximize their innate talents in group-sanctioned service to one another and to their customers. Often using coaching techniques, inner leaders expend energy to teach stakeholders to bond with the work community in ways that serve them individually as together they serve the work community’s purposes. The result of gaining skill in teaching proficiencies is that followers are enabled to be independent in values-related work activities (Carson, 2001). That is, they learn to act on their own in ways the leader would have them act. The need for supervision is minimized as followers internalize common values and behave in ways that respond authentically to those values.
Leadership in the middle asks leaders to also master several techniques that facilitate follower service to the work community and to customers. Some of the specific skills inner leaders need to master in working with their staff include common courtesy, management by walking around, naive listening, using symbols, focusing, and celebrating accomplishment (these skill areas are defined and placed in context of leaders’ self-development elsewhere). For example, implicit and explicit in inner leadership is the idea of empowering followers to govern themselves as they pursue service excellence in their work community activity. The service objectives of inner leaders are two: first, helping stakeholders to produce high quality service to coworkers, clients, and customers as they perform of the work community’s work; second, to seek to enhance each member of the work community. Leadership success can be measured in terms of both service excellence and transformed followers who come to be self-controlling, self-directing, and self-governing servants in their own right. That is, the inner leader’s role is to teach followers service values and to prepare them to be of service themselves.
Successful inner leaders engage in a continuing program of personal change to improve those capacities and values that honor people, shared leadership, and high-quality service in work performance. Inner leaders incorporate a concern for the growth and transformation of followers to the end that these followers will want to use more of their innate talent and intelligence in doing the communal work. The process of leader change to prioritize a service role is personal and intimate. This mind-set change must precede any acts of service a leader might perform for a given follower or for the work community generally. Inner leaders learn to assess their current service strengths and continually work to improve them,
Accepting a philosophy of service is the basis of the inner leader’s relationships with all stakeholders. The most important part of preparation to be successful servants of their customers and stakeholders is to accept the service role implicit in the process and philosophy of inner leadership. Both the leader and those led must come to accept this role and the values that form its foundation. This choice is critical to the practice of inner leadership. For the inner leader, it is essentially a task of internalizing the values of shared leadership and mutual interactive development. It is partly a problem of education about and acquaintance with the tasks and skills of service. It is also partly an act of faith.
Learning to be of service to stakeholders implies that leaders are willing to let them perform as much of the work as they can, including as much of the leader’s work as they are willing to assume. Maximizing their service to followers includes inner leaders in involving staff fully in the work-community’s work. Serving followers is letting them perform all the kinds of work that will help them become more fully conscious of the work that needs to be done. It entails helping followers acquire more skill in performing their duties. It involves providing them with situations and conditions in which they can learn about the other jobs done by coworkers and become more expert in doing that work in addition to their own.
Inner leaders provide both formal and informal organizational structures that facilitate broad service activity. Structural and procedural mechanisms need to be fashioned to institutionalize shared servanthood. Sometimes new structures need to be introduced into the work community to formalize service responsibilities. These structures usually take the form of small work units that require cooperation and interdependency. Such structures may include task forces, operating committees, or councils of workers. These small groups force members to take responsibility for directly helping attain the work unit’s aims—its plans, program designs, and new services or service delivery systems—as well as developing policies and operating processes and otherwise overseeing job tasks. Policies and procedures authorized in the work community also need to be developed that constrain members in how and when to serve others.
Inner leaders assure that service rendered is useful, relevant, and timely. The essence of success in this technique is not always keyed to a policy or procedure or an elaborate process. Rather, it relies for success on the attitude of mind of leaders and followers. As both come to accept the role of helper— to each other and to customers—whatever actions they take will be part of this inner leadership technique. Of course, some system of control and accountability must also be included in leader–follower relationships to insure appropriate use of human and other resources. The key ingredient is a values construct that prioritizes service.
As inner leaders serve the needs of all of their stakeholders, they model desired service behavior and underline the importance of service in their contacts with those with whom they interact. Then they can be successful.