Article: Leading with others in mind: The impact of servant leadership

Performance Management

Leading with others in mind: The impact of servant leadership

From business performance indicators to innovation, heres how servant leadership can help an organization
Leading with others in mind: The impact of servant leadership

“A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” 

- Jim Rohn, American Entrepreneur 

This can truly happen only when the leadership style demonstrates that the leader is ‘there for the team members when the team needs him the most. The leader, in this case, pro-actively ensures that team members develop the skills they need to further their careers, provides them the necessary resources and opportunities and ensures that rigor is maintained in terms of monitoring and follow-ups. Business is becoming global with teams and individuals spread across a number of geographies with distinctive cultural traits. The leadership style must be really inclusive and take into consideration the fact that the leader may not have ample opportunities for ‘face-to-face’ interactions with a team and yet be approachable to team members around the globe. 

What is “Servant Leadership”?

“Employee engagement is a constant challenge in today’s organizations leading to low morale, less productivity, and eventual attrition. Gallup has estimated that a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately USD 3400 for every USD 10000 of salary (or 34%). According to another popular study, 69% of employers say they have been negatively impacted by a bad hire in the past year.” 

Employee engagement, today, needs a leadership style that is high on empathy, builds on ideas of team members based on a consensual approach and one that places a premium on team’s interests rather than their own. The set of leadership behaviors referred to above constitute what is popularly known as “servant leadership”. Robert K. Greenleaf first coined the phrase “servant leadership” in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as a Leader”. 

As a servant leader, one is a ‘servant’ first – focusing on the needs of others, especially team members – before the leader considers his own. The leader, in this case, welcomes other people’s perspectives, gives them the support needed to meet their personal and professional goals, practices an inclusive culture and builds a sense of camaraderie and oneness in the team. This leads to greater co-operation in teams, enhances employee engagement, creates ‘empowered’ teams and this, in turn, influences innovation, productivity, and revenue generation in the long run. 

Leading with others in mind 

Taken to another extreme, one may think that a servant leader literally takes on the role of a servant. This would imply that he is the one who helps team members with their mid-day coffee, opens the office door when they arrive in the morning and drops groceries at their homes when they are away on business travel. No, this isn’t servant leadership. 

Servant leadership is a fine blend of leader and servant and one doesn’t lose leadership qualities or become submissive when he becomes a servant leader. 

Characteristics of a servant leader:

  • Values diverse sets of opinions: A servant leader welcomes views and opinions of others and decisions are taken based on consensus and logic.

  • Inculcates a trustworthy culture: The leader believes in transparency and openness and team members are kept well informed on various developments, issues and challenges.

  • Develops other leaders: The servant leader delegates responsibility and provides team members with enough authority to execute tasks on time. Regular reviews are done to keep a tab on progress and timelines.

  • Helps in resolving ‘personal’ issues besides professional ones: The leader renders help on ‘personal’ issues such as work-life balance, weight management program, personal finance plans, time management and prioritization etc.

  • Motivation and Encouragement: The leader provides constant support and encouragement and truly believes in rallying the team towards greater heights while he leads from the front.

  • ‘Persuasive’ style: The leader, in this style, has a consensus-based approach and takes the team along while zeroing in on a decision. He may use his influencing or persuasion skills in the process and team members feel that they have contributed to the ‘decision making’ process. 

  • Places the ‘team’ before ‘self’: This epitomizes the selfless qualities of the leader in ‘servant’ leadership. It is always about ‘you’ and not ‘me’.

  • ‘Visionary’ mindset: The leader thinks and acts from a long-term perspective and actions are directed towards the fulfillment of ‘vision’. 

Few business reasons to consider ‘Servant Leadership’ Servant Leadership has many advantages which are beneficial to an organization. Hence, it makes sense to adopt this style of leadership.

Following are some of the benefits related to this style:

  • Organizational effectiveness is high: Many research studies have indicated a strong co-relationship between servant leadership and growth of high performance and energetic teams in organizations. 

  • Independent and confident teams: There is enough evidence to suggest that servant leadership leads to more confident and empowering teams, wherein decision making is quick and transparent.

  • Servant leadership leads to ‘innovative’ culture: Fear is not associated with servant leadership and companies that promote this culture are more creative and innovative in their approaches to customers and employees alike. 

Improvement in key business metrics: University of Illinois, Chicago has revealed through their research findings that key business parameters viz. Job Performance (6%), Customer Service (8%) and Employee Retention (50%) have been positively impacted when leaders have acted through this style. This shows that ‘servant leadership’ is not just a nice thing to follow but one that can impact the bottom-line as well. 

Companies that have derived tremendous benefits through their ‘servant leadership’ cultures include names such as Starbucks, FedEx, Medtronic, Herman Miller, Marriott International, to name a few. This culture has the inherent advantage of bringing out the best from ‘talented’ individuals and at the same time ensures that they are given enough ‘elbow’ room to experiment with their ideas for personal and professional growth. Talent is not a scare entity these days and it is high time that organizations provide enough leeway to nurture talent for the growth of organizations and societies. The answer, in more ways than one, lies in ‘servant leadership’.   

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Topics: Performance Management, Leadership, Employee Relations

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