There’s a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi, the prominent political figure in the Indian freedom struggle and an influential leader of all time. It says, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Servant leadership refers to the philosophy or leadership approach that focuses on the needs of others, lets you help others achieve their goals, and build a sense of community within a team. It’s about putting others first before you, to accomplish a common goal.
But sometimes, the two words ‘servant’ and ‘leader’ collide against each other, resulting in a paradox. How can someone serve others and lead at the same time? Keeping that in mind, here are the three paradoxes in being a servant leader.
1. The Paradox in Leadership to Others
As a servant leader, you might look for opportunities and places where you can serve others, where you can make a difference or an impact to uplift others. And there arises a paradox in being a servant leader.
It’s because to be a part of something larger and look beyond your self-interest, you need to look within yourself first. You need to know yourself, hold yourself up accountable to that standard, you need to treat yourself right, you need to serve yourself, and much more.
If you are aware of the areas that you need a change or improvement within yourself, then you’re ready to set up the standards for others too. But, if you don’t incorporate self-leadership, then dreaming about being a servant leader is impossible.
2. The Paradox in Motives
When you’re a servant leader in an organization, one of your goals is to make your employees or your team members feel like a customer or client themselves. You might hire them, promote them, or even pay them as a leader, but your aim might be to keep them happy and satisfied with your services. There arises a paradox in such circumstances.
What might be the best for you as an individual might be the worst decision for your organization or team as a whole. You might have aimed for personal fulfillment and simultaneously leading the organization to success. But that doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes, you need to give up on your personal needs to provide more for others.
3. The Paradox in Hierarchy
The most difficult paradox in being a servant leader is the paradox in the hierarchy. Although the goal of being a servant leader is to serve as many people as you can, it can only be possible when you move up the ladder. When you get promoted to a higher level in an organization, you will have to work harder, and you will have more people to serve. That means you will have to give more of yourself to others. Success can make your work more challenging!