Whether you’re managing a massive team or a select few people, leadership can make or break a group’s performance. Leadership can foster motivation, camaraderie, and energy; it can also cause troublesome competition, squabbles, disagreements, chaos, and wasted time and energy.
Given the importance of leadership in group settings, particularly in the workplace, it’s no surprise that the internet is full of articles, podcasts, and videos detailing different approaches to leadership. Unfortunately, there is a cultural misconception of leadership that results in some bad advice being toted around as if it’s the secret ingredient to a failing business.
The following will outline a lesser-known but highly-effective form of leadership called servant leadership. This form of leadership ignores a lot of common yet detrimental management approaches in favor of a perspective that encourages team member wellbeing and rapid business growth.
Definition: What Is Servant Leadership?
Servant leadership is built upon two core principles. The first is that actions are the most effective form of leadership; it is far better to set a good example than to tell someone what they should be aspiring to. The second is the concept of service; no matter what industry you work in, part of your job entails serving others and serving the team that helps you do that. Servant leadership, therefore, is a philosophical approach to leadership that aims to serve people and lead by example.
It’s important to understand that an organic by-product of this form of leadership is a focus on the development of those within the team rather than a focus on the growth of the business, company, or organization. While at first, this might seem like a use of energy that wouldn’t equal business growth, in practice, it’s quite the opposite; businesses grow when their team members develop and grow.
Many people look at leadership roles as sources of prestige, authority, and power. At https://kurtuhlir.com/definitive-guide-to-servant-leadership/, it’s pointed out that servant leadership is a form of leadership that can be undertaken by anyone no matter their position in an organization. No matter who you are and what stage of your career you’re currently in, servant leadership can be employed to create hypergrowth.
Where Does This Idea Come From?
The term servant leadership came into use in the 1970s. Robert K. Greenleaf used the term in his essay The Servant as Leader. It was within this piece of writing that he described the character traits that set apart a servant leader from other forms of leaders. His non-profit, called Greenleaf Center, promoted the leadership style by offering workshops and breaking it down in publications. It is worth noting that while the term and analysis were provided by Mr. Greenleaf, examples of this humble approach to leadership can be found all throughout history.
How Does Servant Leadership Benefit Organizations?
Servant leadership offers a plethora of benefits to corporations, but one of the first benefits that can be witnessed is understanding. All too often, leaders struggle to figure out when they should be working alongside their team and when they should be allowing their team to carry on with minimal supervision. Employees can end up feeling lost or frustrated by micromanagement if this balance isn’t struck properly. By focusing on helping team members develop, servant leadership can greatly assist leaders trying to walk this fine line.
The second benefit that will likely be noticed is a sense of empowerment among employees. When employees feel capable and empowered, their productivity, engagement, and camaraderie are lifted. These three things mix together (especially if multiple staff members are experiencing the same leadership) to contribute to organizational growth. When workers are highly productive, actively engaged, and bonded strongly with each other great things can happen within a company.
In more common leadership models, the staff tends to be forced into a rigid system similar to a dictatorship. This can lead to employees being uncomfortable or nervous about sharing their ideas or insights and reduce the chances that someone is going to ask a question about something that seems to be going wrong. Humans tend to avoid things they’re afraid of or things that cause humiliation, and if sharing ideas in the workplace results in either of these things (higher-ups brushing people off or treating them like they’re lesser), they’re not going to bring up things that they see. Your staff members are the eyes of your company; they know what customers complain about, they understand what slows down orders, and they notice the subtle problems that reduce employee comfort throughout the day.
Servant leadership aims to serve these employees, and part of that involves building their confidence and allowing them to step into their own authority and influence. When staff is given these things, an entire business can transform, resulting in:
- Accelerated growth
- Improvement in final product or service
- More positive customer experiences
- The maintenance of growth across an extended period of time
- Reduced cost of hiring and keeping talented staff due to lower employee turnover
- Developed emotional intelligence and employee satisfaction for all members of the company
How To Employ Servant Leadership?
Find Your Purpose
The first tenant of servant leadership involves purpose. Figuring out what your values are and your goals within your community can give you a guiding compass as you embark on your leadership journey. If your get clear on your sense of purpose, you have something you can turn to every time you find a decision difficult to make. You can ask yourself what choice will help you maintain your values and give to your community. Not only will this thought process help you craft a mission statement, but it can also help you hone in on your business’ identity, which can keep you and your work focused on your targets. Having a strong sense of purpose is also a big component of building growth momentum. If you’re changing directions a lot because you don’t have a guiding principle, it’s much harder to get the momentum started than if you’re moving steadily towards your ultimate aims.
Meet People Where They Are
A huge component of servant leadership is respect for others. Servant leader isn’t trying to change their team members, but rather, they’re trying to see what each member of their team brings to the table and putting those skills and energies to good use. If this concept feels foreign or difficult for you, leadership teacher Kurt Uhlir often speaks about this topic on podcasts. Here is just one example of meeting someone where they are: You might have a staff member with lower conversions but the best attitude imaginable; maybe you notice that whatever team you put this staff member with begins to thrive because of the encouragement and positivity this person provides. You can select the team you put this person on with morale in mind; if a group is struggling or seems worn down, they might benefit from this person being added to the team.
Every person—yes, every single one—has something of value to offer others. A servant leader is good at identifying these strengths and finding ways to put them to use. When people’s strengths are valued, they feel valued, and they also feel good at their job, which leads to employee satisfaction.
Always Return To Empathy
Empathy requires a leader to put aside ideas of profit, deadlines, and outcomes and focus on the people in front of them and what they’re going through. Employees’ physical needs but also their mental and emotional needs should be thought of and respected. Things like home issues, new babies, health struggles, and childcare frustrations can all impact an employee’s work performance. Instead of judging the performance or having a stern talk about quotas, ask yourself what could create alterations in your work performance and ask the staff member in question what’s going on. Actively listen to their struggles and, where appropriate, see if there are changes you could make to help make the balance of their work expectations and personal challenges easier to bear. Be particularly cognizant of times when multiple staff members are struggling simultaneously—this is often an indicator that a bigger change needs to be made in the workplace.
Active listening is absolutely vital if you’re going to meet people where they are and continually return to empathy. Listen to what people are saying. Are they tired? Are they worn out? Is there one client that utterly destroys whatever staff members they work with? What’s going on with them at home? What are their hobbies and interests outside of work? Allow staff members to direct conversations and see what arises. Rephrase what you think you’ve heard and ask for confirmation that you understand regularly to ensure that you’re not missing the point.
Throw Away The Need To Be Right
This is a tough point that will likely be part of an ongoing learning process that takes an entire lifetime to complete. When you insist on being right, you’re automatically limiting growth. If someone has a better idea, but you need to be right, that idea will be ignored, and the client the idea could have served might go with another firm in the future. When you insist on being right, staff might not bother to bring up suggestions because they know they’ll be shot down. You might miss out on a small tweak that could greatly improve work performance, like moving the copy machine so that employees don’t need to run down three flights of stairs each time a copy is needed.
The above information should have outlined the concept of servant leadership and given you a few pointers on how to begin employing it in your current work situation. Again, you don’t need to be the “boss” to start using and benefitting from servant leadership; you can be the newest employee at the very bottom of the hierarchical rung and still employ this approach to help improve the experience of everyone who works with you.