Servant Leadership

leadership on chalkboard

Is your company struggling with employee engagement, customer satisfaction, or turning a profit? Have you tried several different methods to overcome your difficulties—implementing new programs, rebranding, expanding your staff—with limited or no success? Are your competitors steadily inching ahead of you?

It’s possible that your company would benefit from a shift in its focus. Instead of concentrating on profits, sales numbers, or “motivating” your employees with bonuses, consider using the servant leadership approach.

Servant leadership is a philosophy created by Robert Greenleaf which has been successfully applied to companies such as The Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, FedEx, and Herman Miller. This leadership style is people-centric and focuses on the happiness and wellbeing of both customers and employees. Instead of leading for one’s own personal gain, servant leaders place the good of the whole above their own personal glory.

Greenleaf’s “best test” for effectiveness of servant leadership is, “Do those served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or at least, not be further deprived?”

You might be thinking, “The idea is nice, but what does the practical application look like? What can servant leadership really do for my business?”

In day-to-day practice, servant leadership involves communicating openly and honestly with customers and employees, listening to feedback, taking actions that positively affect others, and genuinely caring about the wellbeing and satisfaction of both staff and customers. A servant leader sticks up for their team and defends their ideas. They also appreciate the diversity of thought that their team brings and carefully consider all perspectives before making a decision.

That’s not to say that a servant leader is a softie who can be easily manipulated by others. A servant leader is still a leader. There is still a balance of power. Kevin Monroe, a director at Greenleaf Consulting, describes a servant leader as someone who serves others’ legitimate needs, not a genie who grants wishes.

Although it may be tough at first to shift your leadership mentality to revolve around serving others, the benefits of such a shift can be tremendous. Three areas that can benefit from servant leadership are:

1. Employees

When employees feel like they matter, amazing transformations can take place. People become less afraid to voice their concerns or present new ideas; creativity flourishes; innovative problem-solving begins to emerge.

When employees feel like valuable pieces of the company puzzle, they begin to feel a greater sense of loyalty for their company, co-workers, and bosses. Employee retention improves and productivity increases.

Servant leadership also fosters an inclusive environment where diversity is acknowledged and appreciated.

2. Customers

In a company driven by servant leadership, customers are directly benefitted. Leadership stops focusing on the question, “How can we profit?” Instead, they begin to ask, “How can we best serve our customers?”

This important shift means that customer needs become the heart of the company’s motives. Customer concerns are addressed and systems are implemented to make the customer experience positive and enjoyable.

When customers feel genuinely appreciated, they are more likely to become repeat customers. They develop loyalty toward the company and recommend its services to friends and family. Companies such as Southwest Airlines has incorporated servant leadership at all levels of their organization so that their passengers feel not only respected, but “celebrated.” This kind of treatment has led to an average of 43,000 commendations every year.

3. Company Image

When a company is respected by both employees and customers, its brand becomes associated with high-quality and value. It grows a following of loyal customers and builds a sterling reputation. Even though profits are not the central focus of a servant leadership-driven company, studies have found that such companies are often profitable anyway.

Jason’s Deli, for example, shifted its focus to servant leadership and found that not only were customer satisfaction and employee retention positively impacted (8% and 50% increase, respectively), but profitability went up as well. Sandy Wayne studied the impact on servant leadership for the deli and noted that “servant leadership isn’t just a nice thing to do; it can actually impact the profitability of an organization.”

When leaders take the focus away from themselves and place it on employees, customers, and the good of the company, they can make a tremendously positive impact. How might servant leadership transform YOUR organization?

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