'Servant leadership'. Looks like a textbook oxymoron, am I right?
Something along the lines of attractive running shoes (what is up with the designs of high-end exercise trainers these days?), unwelcome salary increases and simple-to-fold fitted sheets.
Turns out it's not though. Servant leadership is a particular leadership style that was first described and coined by author Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay 'The servant as leader' in 1973. You can go check out the full thing here. Give it a read if you have the time - it’s very interesting. In the meantime, here’s a practical breakdown of what servant leadership is and how it can benefit your business:
What is servant leadership?
Servant leadership refers to a philosophy that states that leaders should serve in order to be effective. It differs from most traditional leadership models by shifting the focus from the success of the company or organisation to the needs of the employees.
Sound a little bonkers? Well so did Copernicus when he first suggested **shock, gasp, horror!** that the earth might not actually be the centre of the known universe. It will make more sense as you read on, we promise. Let’s take a deep dive, shall we?
It's great for team building in diverse workplaces
Cross-generational, inclusive workforces tend to be made up of a whole lot of very different people. This is a good thing, but it also means that autocratic and democratic leadership tactics can quickly cause dissonance and even alienate certain staff members. Not good. Servant leadership can smooth the way in cases like these, but seeking outcomes that serve the group as a whole. A servant leader seeks to assist every member of the group to use their unique skills and abilities to the advantage of the group, which makes for fruitful collaboration.
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It makes achievement possible
Traditional leadership models depend on the leader setting the pace for the whole team. In a servant leadership setup, the entire team is roped in to set achievable goals and objectives that ensure the long-term success of the business. When employees have a hand in determining their KPIs morale is immediately boosted from within.
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Change management becomes less troublesome
The servant leadership style leverages employees' points of view to establish a shared vision for the future. This, in turn, allows staff members to track their own career trajectories and find a healthy work/life balance that keeps them motivated, healthy, productive and engaged.
Employee satisfaction skyrockets
When employees work in an environment in which the goal is to benefit every person who works within it, satisfaction immediately skyrockets for one simple reason - they feel heard. When a person's needs are met on a real, tangible, personal level like this and they are involved in the decision-making processes that impact on their day-to-day existence, serving the good of the whole becomes somewhat of a no-brainer.
Good stuff, right?
Now that you know what the benefits of the servant leadership model are, here are a few ways that you can put it into practice at your place of work:
- Learn to value diverse opinions. Servant leaders value every person's contributions equally and seek it out regularly.
- Actively promote a culture of trust. This will do away with the need to badmouth, bicker or gossip.
- Nurture future leaders. The servant leader is always teaching others to lead and providing them with opportunities to grow. It requires a loss of ego and sharing of power.
- Develop employees as humans. Offer opportunities for personal development beyond the scope of their immediate jobs (e.g. financial planning for families, meditation workshops, in-office yoga, etc.).
- Recognise and reward frequently. Value your employees' hard work and make a point of being vocal about it with active and ongoing encouragement.
- Persuade instead of command. When someone on your team understands why you need them to do something they are far more likely to comply in a constructive and innovative way.
- Always thinks of the group first. It's no longer about 'me', but about 'we'. Cultivate selflessness.
- Look to the future. Servant leaders base their decisions on what is good for the future. It goes far beyond the needs and wants of today to focus on the wellbeing of those to come.
- Practice humility. In the end, it all comes down to being the type of leader who is not in it for themselves. A real leader is never too good to clear a table or take out the trash; they lead by example and inspire others to do the same.
Quite compelling, right?
To sum it all up, servant leadership is great for business because it's great for team building in diverse workplaces, makes achievement possible, eases the stress of change management and improves employee satisfaction to no end.
If you want to adjust your leadership style to get these outcomes, the best way to do it would be to value diverse opinions, promote a culture of trust, nurture future leaders and develop employees as humans. It also helps to recognise and reward frequently, to persuade instead of command, think of the group first, look to the future and practice humility.
In the meantime why don't you download our eBook on how to build a successful employee recognition program that your employees will love. Click on the image below and download a FREE copy of our latest ebook to find out how!