The masterful PR pro is a servant leader–one whose self-mastery and self-discipline in serving others help her stand out.
“In countless for-profit and nonprofit organizations today, we are seeing traditional autocratic and hierarchical modes of leadership yielding to a different way of working:
- one based on teamwork and community
- one that seeks to involve others in decision making
- one strongly based in ethical and caring behavior and
- one that is attempting to enhance the personal growth of workers while improving the caring and quality of our many institutions
This emerging approach to leadership is called servant leadership.”
Servant leadership's qualities
Larry Spears wrote the above in "Practicing Servant Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness," (336 pp, Jossey-Bass, 2004). His co-author was Michele Lawrence.
Servant leadership isn’t incumbent on one’s personality, but her character. It doesn’t require being an extrovert. Many introverts are exemplary PR servant leaders. And it doesn’t require holding an executive position. People at any job level can become servant leaders.
The key is simply leading from where a person is–no matter their rank or responsibility.
Masterful PR professionals who are servant leaders are:
- extraordinary listeners
- wise stewards of resources
- team builders
- gifted teachers
- connectors and
- conflict resolvers
They invite others to dream big and walk beside them as they plan the work and work the plan. They never walk so far ahead of their team that no one sees them or understands the mission.
Humility, compassion, empathy
Servant-leading PR pros demonstrate humility and extend compassion and empathy. They never offer mere bread crumbs. Instead, they provide rich, meaningful, coherent internal communication that focuses and reenergizes staff.
Moreover, they are philanthropists and genuinely love people. As such, they give of themselves for worthy causes as volunteers and provide financial support.
This point is reminiscent of a donor call example.
A college development officer sat with a prospective donor, an extremely wealthy person. He shared with the prospective donor the school's dream of remodeling its science building.
During the meeting, the development officer saw the potential donor had a checkbook and pen ready. In light of this and the positive conversation, the development officer was confident about the upcoming multi-million dollar request.
Following the ask, the prospective donor sat back in his wingback chair and said: “This is a project I can support. But before I write my check, let me ask, ‘Do you support your institution?’”
The development officer admitted the answer was no.
“If your institution isn’t worth your own investment,” the potential donor said, “then it’s certainly not worth mine.”
A PR professional who is a servant leader understands this. It’s not the amount of our philanthropy–whether that's hours spent volunteering, financial support, or both–that counts. But before we encourage others to support us, we, as PR professionals, must be among the first who invest ourselves in whatever way we can.
Our believability and authentic leadership as PR professionals is appreciated even more when we invest in what we communicate, promote, challenge, encourage, persuade, or invite others to do. They see and value that we are sincere and genuine.
Last, servant leaders are committed to growing those around them.
As such, they quickly offer praise and recognition. They send occasional handwritten notes of appreciation or emails offering encouragement. Moreover, they are not shy about providing shout-outs on social media when a colleague or friend is honored. They genuinely enjoy celebrating the successes of others. Why?
Because they are servant leaders.
Should a servant leader head the PR operation, they provide lifelong learning opportunities for their team through professional development offerings. Like planting a seed, servant leaders cultivate growth and enjoy watching employees rise in the profession.
Marc C. Whitt is instructor and director of media & strategic relations, University of Kentucky office of PR and strategic communications. This essay is an edited excerpt from his book, "When In Doubt, Make Applesauce! Core Habits of the Masterful Public Relations Professional" (444 pp., Cherrymoon Media, 11/2022).