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Servant Leadership illustrates an unlikely paradigm that connects leadership to service. Unlike other forms of leadership, servant leadership emphasizes the importance of selflessness and providing aid to others. Servant leaders possess a set of ten qualities that contribute to the growth of others and the stability of organizations to which they belong. Public servants, like police officers, provide a service to their community that not only brings about generalized safety for society, but contributes to quality relationships among community members and their respective departments. This paper explores literature on critical elements of servant leadership and the ability to apply those qualities to policing efforts.
Servant leadership presents model of leadership qualities that advocates themes of altruistic behavior. When considering the term “servant leadership”, it is essential to recognize the contradictory aspect of these two words. Leaders typically do not provide services to their followers. In this model, the leader provides support and service to their followers with a special focus on their personal needs (Dennis, Kinzler-Norheim, & Bocarnea, 2010). Servant Leadership is rooted in scripture and emphasizes the importance of leaders building relationships with their inferiors and providing support (Greenleaf, 1972). Coined by Robert K. Greenleaf (1972), servant leadership is comprised of ten specific qualities that contribute to quality relationships, service-oriented work, and commitment to larger goals: Listening, Empathy, Healing,
Awareness, Persuasion, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the Growth of People, and Building Community (Spears, 2004). Policing ventures can benefit from this model in that they already provide services for their communities, but with these specific qualities in mind, they can provide enhanced leadership within society.
Qualities in Servant Leadership
Providing service to others to not warrant a servant leadership description. Servant Leaders possess certain qualities that contribute to the betterment of themselves, the people that they serve, and the environment in which they serve. By engaging in relationships, servant leaders can contribute to the success and longevity of institutional programming (Spears, 2004). Police officers have taken on the role as public servants and historically due to the authoritative nature of the departments in which they serve, officers tend to exhibit those qualities in the field (Vito, Suresh, & Richards, 2011). To establish success within a department, leaders must engage other members of the force and reinforce leadership within all levels of the organization (Gardner & Reece, 2012). There have been efforts to find a leadership model to apply to policing efforts, and servant leadership would provide a great framework as policing exudes many of these qualities.
Developing understanding and quality relationships between people requires listening (Brewer, 2010). Active listening provides the opportunity for personal reflection and learning the needs and desires of others. This can offer an outlet for servant-leader development through gaining insight into other people’s experiences (Spears, 2004). To serve others properly, officers must discover the needs of community members. When speaking with community members, officers can provide insight into the legalities of life while also gathering intelligence into what is going on in the community like reckless driving, drug trafficking, etc. Hearing the concerns of community members makes officers better stewards of the law and helps build individual relationships with the people they serve.
Through listening and learning, leaders can identify problems within their group following or community. In doing this, leaders may be able to empathize with the people they serve and provide more meaningful services (Spears, 2004).. By understanding the individual needs of members of the group, leaders may help the group holistically. Leaders recognize individuality and appreciate that every person possesses needs that deserve special and individualized attention (Brewer, 2010; Spears, 2004; 2010). Police officers typically reside in the communities they serve, so there is an inherent unity between them and civilians. This creates motivation for their work as they understand the many concerns of community members.
In the wake of hardship, it is imperative to have supportive relationship so that one may find healing. Servant leaders use their talents to support others through personal struggles, however, many leaders tend to find themselves healing too (Spears, 1998; 2004; Brewer, 2010).
Many police officers experience hardships on the job and at home, so it is critical for leadership within the department to be a support system for officers. Departments provide services to officers who experience death and other troubling experiences in the field which contributes to the officer’s health and well-being. Realizing the importance of others needs and well-being before your own reinforces the importance of the relationship and builds unity among leadership and inferiors. Healing requires stakeholders of the relationship to be considerate of one another (Kim, Kim, & Choi, 2014) and jointly work towards group healing efforts.
General awareness is an important wholistic quality for servant leaders. Not only may they acknowledge issues that face the people they serve, but they may recognize institutional downfalls that affect stakeholders as a whole (Kim et al., 2014). Awareness is the ability to pinpoint practical and ethical issues facing followers and recognizing the organizational factors that hinder progress (Spears, 2004). Identifying downfalls of the department that hinder the abilities of organization members is important for leaders. Even if the downfall is within themselves, servant leaders strive to provide a quality environment that is conducive to success.
Promoting change or reaching a goal takes group support. Unlike other forms of leadership, servant leaderships initiate group followings through persuasion rather than coercion (Spears, 2004; Van Dierendock, 2011). Persuasion allows servant leaders to develop plans that affect the entire group to gain support. Leaders are not successful when goals are not valuable for all members of the organization. To initiate institutional change, goals must be meticulously planned and attractive to the entire group. Long term-goals and change is necessary for institutional growth. Servant leaders appreciate the need for long-term goals and develop shortterm plans to reach those goals (Spears, 2004). Foreseeing the future is difficult in criminal
justice as laws and policies are constantly changing. However, developing goals for day-to-day activities, like acknowledgment of milestones, provides long-term success of the organization.
Failure serves as a learning experience for servant leaders, and foresight is dependent on experience and wisdom. Leaders guide their followers through their expertise and personal experiences in the field (Brewer, 2010; Spears, 2004;2010). Having experienced leadership is critical to overcoming unforeseen obstacles, especially in policing. Veteran police officers provide incomparable experiences, and they can provide mentorship for rookie officers. No amount of training can provide an insider’s perspective into the world of policing, so it is useful to initiate relationships between the experienced and the naive.
Commitment to work and the betterment of others embodies the model of servant leadership (Spears, 2010). Servant leaders are trusted to serve the weak and uphold certain standards that promote institutional goals. Prioritizing other people’s needs and goals drives the paradigm of servant leadership. These individual’s aim to make positive contributions to the organization and stakeholders (Kim et al, 2014). Many officers have a passion for what they do and thoroughly enjoy the public service aspect of policing. The stewardship involved in policing both internally and externally is the epitome of servant leadership. The supportive nature of leadership and other officers is a fundamental aspect of policing and signifies the brotherhood of law enforcement.
Unity within law enforcement settings is particularly famous. Their overall commitment to one another both in their own department and with other departments embodies the commitment of servant leadership. Knowing and respecting all individuals within the group is imperative to completing objectives and overcoming obstacles (Spears, 2010). As many criminal justice professionals know, support is critical. Being able to depend on one another for daily tasks or dangerous calls is one of the most important aspects of the law enforcement profession.
Servant leadership is fully applicable in law enforcement. Not only applicable in leadership, but for all members of an organization. These qualities can be demonstrated internally and externally, with great emphasis on community policing efforts. There is an inherent need for a constructive leadership framework in law enforcement, and this model can be implemented in a downward motion as many of these traits can be learned from actual departmental leadership.
Creating a successful leadership framework for law enforcement takes trial and error. It is especially difficult to find a practical model because of the authoritative nature of law enforcement. But it is essential to recognize that there can be respect without constantly applying authoritative tactics. Servant leadership provides an alternative to traditional leadership practices as leaders treat others the way they would want to be treated. Though it seems like an elementary idea, it is apparent in nearly every aspect of life. Loyalty and trust is a need within law enforcement (Gardner & Reece, 2012). This is achieved through authentic relationships and providing quality leadership to constituents. When loyalty and trust are present, department can achieve goals through group acceptance or a “rallying around the flag” phenomenon.
There has been research into the application of servant leadership in law enforcement settings, and the results are reassuring. There is an inherent push for law enforcement leadership to embrace servant leadership practices (Vito et al., 2011). According to the 2011 study, police managers wanted leaders to possess servant leadership qualities as they proved to be more successful. Be demonstrating these qualities, leadership appeared to be more caring, and in turn, officers responded to them with greater enthusiasm. It was acknowledged that these leading officers were concerned for their constituent’s well-being and exerted kindness with no expectation of receiving it return (Vito et al, 2011).
Criminal justice has been pushing for evidence-based practices, and leadership styles should be no different. Although not fully researched from a policing standpoint, servant leadership is a viable option for further review. Considering many departments strive to implement many of these qualities, it could be easily implemented. With such a negative focus of police officers globally, it would be irresponsible for departments to not be open to such a paradoxical form of leadership that has proven to be useful in many other settings.
Brewer, C. (2010). Servant leadership: A review of literature. Online Journal for Workforce Education and Development, 4(2), 3.
Dennis, R. S., Kinzler-Norheim, L., & Bocarnea, M. (2010). Servant leadership theory. In Servant leadership (pp. 169-179). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Gardner, B., & Reece, J. (2012). Revolutionizing policing through servant-leadership and quality management. FBIL. Enforcement Bull., 81,25.
Greenleaf, R. K. (1972) The institution as servant. Indianapolis, IN: Greenleaf Center.
Kim, S. J., Kim, K. S., & Choi, Y. G. (2014). A literature review of servant leadership and
criticism of advanced research. World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, International Science. International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic and Management Engineering, 8(4), 1145-1148.
Spears, L. C. (2004). Practicing servant-leadership. Leader to leader, 2004(34), 7-11.
Spears, L. C. (2010). Character and servant leadership: Ten characteristics of effective, caring leaders. The Journal of Virtues & Leadership, 1(1), 25-30.
Van Dierendonck, D. (2011). Servant leadership: A review and synthesis. Journal of management, 37(4), 1228-1261.
Vito, G. F., Suresh, G., & Richards, G. E. (2011). Emphasizing the servant in public service: The opinions of police managers. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 34(4), 674-686.
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