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December 19, 2014

Becoming a Servant Leader

Sarah Pavey

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Around nine months ago, our small editorial team of three went through a very welcome change: we doubled in size.

Before this, myself (@SarahPaveyMT), Tom (@ThomasHallett) and James (@JNManktelow) focused on editing, proofing, signing off, and scheduling content for publishing, with limited time for other exciting projects. We always pulled through and met our deadlines, but I don’t think I’d be alone in saying we felt frazzled at times!

Then Ruth (@DrRuthMHill), Caroline (@CarolineSmithMT) and Elizabeth (@ElizabethEyreMT) joined us, and we immediately started seeing the potential of having a bigger team. There were new ideas, suggestions and perspectives that we hadn’t considered before, and the future of the Mind Tools editorial team was looking brighter than ever!

Watching our new team members settle in made me think of my first few months at Mind Tools, back in 2012. When I joined, I was nervous but Tom took me under his wing, and showed me the ropes. He did a great job, and I think he found the right balance between teaching me how everything worked and letting me get on with things myself (which I like to do). He would always drop what he was doing if I got stuck or needed advice, and he put the team and the publishing schedule before his own needs.

When Tom was asked to mentor and train me, I imagine he was excited about the chance to try out new skills, but I also got the impression he wanted me to enjoy my role, build my capabilities, feel supported, and know that I could come to him for help at any time.

First, he shifted his focus subtly from his own tasks and responsibilities to helping me settle in. He made sure that everything was on track and that we wouldn’t miss any deadlines, and he concentrated on getting me up to speed.

He scheduled regular meetings, catch-ups and training sessions, he listened to, and answered, my (many) questions, he looked at things from my perspective, and he prioritized helping me over his own work. He also made sure that he gave me honest feedback, and suggested ways to avoid any mistakes the next time round.

The philosophy of helping other people develop their skills, putting your team first, and being mindful of others’ perspectives is known as “servant leadership.” This was first written about by Robert K. Greenleaf in an article called "The Servant as Leader" in 1970, but it’s an approach that people have used for centuries.

I think Tom sees himself as more of a mentor than a leader, but he applied these useful general principles to help me settle in, and it certainly did the trick.

Thank you, Tom!

Question: How have you applied the principles of servant leadership at work? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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5 comments on “Becoming a Servant Leader”

  1. Thanks Sarah for sharing such a personal story about your work at Mind Tools. Tom sounds like a great boss!

    Although I have not managed anyone recently, I would like to think that I would adopt the same approach that Tom did by helping you settle in, learn the ropes and become more confidence in what you do.

  2. Subtle difference between mentor and servant-leader. Servant leaders must exhibit courage, humility and patience. These last two are tough for many traditional leaders.
    Tom, you should frame Sarah's blog for your wall. Mind Tools, keep up the good teamwork.

  3. What a great testimony of setting the right example and leading by example. Sarah, you will probably try and do the same when you need to mentor someone – not because of what Tom said, but because of how he mentored you.

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