After studying, practicing and teaching leadership for over a decade, I have discovered many people have an incorrect understanding of what it means to be a leader. Leadership is not about attaining a title, recognition or status; it’s about serving others.

When we hear the phrase “servant leadership” it conjures up the image of inmates running the prison. This is a mistake of thinking. A servant leader is one who is focused on the growth and well-being of their people and the communities they serve. While traditional leadership thinking generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform at their full potential.

While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay he published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf wrote:

“The servant-leader is servant first. Servant leadership begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. The conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

Leaders should demonstrate a heart to serve before they are entrusted with the responsibility to lead. At its core, leadership is about helping others. It should never be about power, prestige or materialism. The difference between servant leadership and other styles of leadership manifests itself in the care taken by the leader to make sure the needs of others are being served first.

The best test of servant-leadership is to ask yourself:

Do those I lead grow as individuals? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servant leaders? And, what is the effect on the communities we serve? Will they improve as a result of our service?

Those who exert the greatest influence in the community are not those of us seated comfortably behind our desks; it’s the officers on the street. When a citizen calls for help, we are not the ones responding to those calls. It is the officers on the streets who are the hands and feet of our organizations. It is the officers on the front line who shape the realities of the communities we serve. Thus, the most important person is not the citizen, it is the employee serving the citizen.

A fundamental truth of leadership is, “People do what people see.” If we treat our people the same way we expect them to treat the community, the result will be healthier organizations and stronger police-community relationships. It is our job as leaders to serve the people who are serving the people.

~ Written by Frank Trammer, President- Guardian Leadership.