I witnessed a great example of Servant Leadership this week while attending a training session about the power of feminist business development. It was fun to be an audience member (rather than the person running the room) and gave me the opportunity to see other professionals in action. 

One attendee arrived well after we started and was understandably a little flustered and embarrassed by coming while the session was underway. There was a leader at our table who knew this person and modelled what great servant leadership looks like. Not only did she walk to the back of the room to meet the new attendee and bring them to our table, but she also took the time to make sure the new person had some context to the current conversation. The servant-leader made sure the new attendee had a copy of the workbook and introduced us all during a break.

I was able to overhear some of their conversations during the working session, and the Servant Leader was actively engaging, prompting and drawing out meaningful and insightful comments from the new attendee. With a few simple acts, the Servant Leader was able to transform what could have been an overwhelming and negative late arrival experience into one of inclusivity and learning,

Watching this interaction got me wondering about the difference between kindness and servant leadership. Yes, leadership often includes a degree of kindness. Servant Leadership, however, takes it a step further by turning that kindness into action. Here’s what that looked like during this meeting:

  1. Kindness is welcoming a new arrival at your table.
    Servant leadership is going to the back of the room to greet the newcomer and not worrying about the stares from the rest of the room whispering “where is SHE going?!?!”. After checking in to see if they need a hand with registration, walk with them back to the table. 
  2. Kindness is making sure they have a copy of the workbook. 
    Servant leadership is asking if you can give them a quick overview of what they missed and pointing out the current page. Added bonus: asking if, as an ESL speaker, they would like a hand understanding or processing any of the information.
  3. Kindness is introducing yourself to the new person.
    Servant leadership is stopping the conversation at your table to have others introduce themselves to the new attendee.
  4. Kindness is offering to help or partner with an exercise.
    Servant Leadership is deeply engaging with another person through active listening and asking insightful questions. 

It’s not surprising I was reminded of the difference between kindness and servant leadership in a meeting about feminist values. Through my awareness journey, I am learning that feminism isn’t just about making things better for women. It’s about allowing everyone to live a flourishing life.  So is servant leadership. 

Turns out feminism looks a lot like servant leadership. Elsie really was ahead of her time!

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