Why and how servant leadership is good for business

people routinely encounter servant leadership through everyday interactions.
They just may not realize it.

Top-flight staff in businesses of all sizes utilize servant leadership, whether it’s:

When one employee waits to hold the door for another An executive taking the time to sit and talk with a new
employeeA fast food employee walking a customer to their car with and
umbrella because it’s raining or coming outside in the heat to expedite a busy
drive-thru lane

sustained, consistent and personalized care fosters and nurtures customer

individuals in these examples demonstrate an enthusiastic concern for the
needs of others
. To do so consistently, while also putting one’s own
needs second, is the essence of servant leadership. Stephen Covey, in his book “The
Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” said, “Seek first to understand, then
to be understood.”

things being equal (tasks, salary, working conditions), companies with
consistent, reliable customer service are ultimately rooted in a culture where
management values servant leadership.


Why should it be any
different when it comes to your own employees? What’s to be gained from
embracing servant leadership over other styles? How can you, as a leader,
create a company culture where staff at every level – from the front lines of
customer service to the C-suite – engage in servant leadership?

think about some key concepts to help you develop some answers.

Influence vs. power

creating a workplace culture, there are two primary ways leaders engineer an
environment or create a climate.

Meet staff needs through
servant leadership. Meet staff needs through
power, force and control.

former approach is selfless; the latter – to coin a phrase – is “self-more.”

the trick: Unless we’re careful and intentional about our efforts and work
consistently to build our influence through servant leadership, it’s easy to
slip into power and control mode.

difficult to put ourselves second. To do so routinely requires practice and
dedication. With time and concentrated effort, however, you can accomplish more
when you work from a place of influence.

is true of all sorts of relationships, frankly, not just in business. We tend
to find it easier to treat customers with more consideration than we do people
with whom we interact daily. Employees, coworkers, friends and family are more
apt to bear the brunt of our daily frustrations. They’re expected to just
understand us.

when you interact from a place of consideration and kindness, people can be more
willing to respect and listen to advice
, to honor reasonable requests.

these instances, you’re demonstrating the same behaviors at the core of servant
leadership: choosing influence over power.

Building influence

you want to motivate large groups of people, you must build trust,
understanding and value your people. That requires an investment of time,
energy and care.

wonder the military relies upon servant leadership as its predominant style.
Senior officers inspire investment and trust in the organization, from top to
bottom. When they’re called into action, our service men and women not only know
what to do but do it with dedication and determination.

implementing servant leadership to achieve optimal
productivity levels
, your staff needs appropriate:

TrainingResourcesEquipment SupportAppreciation for their uniqueness

servant leaders meet the needs of their people first then reap the rewards
themselves second. Simon Sinek, in his book “Leaders Eat Last,” does a great
job sharing this philosophy.

you’re motivating and leading someone through influence (rather than power),
you don’t ignore uniqueness. Instead, you center on it because you know
understanding builds connections. That’s why servant leadership has lasting
impact on relationships throughout a small business or large company, between
supervisors and supervisees and also between coworkers.

The dangers of power

company culture dependent solely upon motivation through power can result in:

RebellionMistrust Passive behaviorsA lack of creativity and imagination

Power comes at the
cost of relationship

isn’t to say that there aren’t many instances in which leaders must exert some
degree of power, especially in settings in which health and safety matters are
involved. Yet, if you’ve built an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in the
first place – one in which employees know you have their best interests at
heart – it’s much easier to gain engagement and discretionary effort.

trust breeds trust and reliability. And fear? It breeds mistrust and misunderstanding.

which workplace would you prefer to spend your days? Which atmosphere is going
to have the most appeal for employees, customers and clients?

Beyond the golden rule

probably familiar with the golden rule, which invites us to do unto others as
we’d have done unto ourselves. But it’s important to go beyond that and to meet
people where they are.

In a
nutshell, that’s what servant leadership is about.

By understanding
individual personality traits
, the chemistry between peers and how
team members work under routine and high-stress situations, you can develop
useful strategies to motivate them.

you understand motives, hindrances and other individual differences, you can
more effectively tap into your organization’s human capital.

the sports world, leaders discuss if an athlete is “coachable” (i.e. willing to
take and respond promptly to constructive feedback). What isn’t talked about enough
is whether we’re coaching optimally. If you can enhance our own management
skills and abilities, the entire company culture benefits.

is reflected in the bottom line
, although perhaps not in ways we’re
used to considering:

Happy staff members tend to be inclined to stick around. Less turnover means less money spent recruiting and training
staff. Less time is lost on the essential functions because position
vacancies are fewer and far between. Enthusiastic, talented employees tend to refer and attract
similar coworkers while treating clients and customers well.

Reaping what we sow

something you’ll be surprised to hear me admit:


does, but only for a little while.

get results – and some of them might be quite satisfactory at first. But with
unchecked power comes resentment and other negative behaviors. You simply won’t
get the harvest that you’d produce by cultivating a culture that nurtures your
team. “You can get several seasons out of power, you will reap a harvest out of

good example of this phenomena can be found in parenting.

talk about how authoritarian approaches (which rely on power, coercion and
insistence on full compliance) are less effective in the long run than
authoritative (thoughtful, measured and responsive) styles.

one relies upon shouting, punitive punishment, shame and other forms of
non-verbal and emotional force, a parent may get compliance in the present. Yet
there’s a real risk kids won’t comply – or respect – demands when they are

your voice to an 8-year-old may get her out the door (perhaps in tears), but
the same approach with a 15-year-old will deepen the misunderstanding and
lessen the influence at the cost of the relationship. Now try using power
regularly with an employee.

the popular saying goes, an employee is more inclined
to quit a poor manager than a company
. And word about negative
supervisors and workplaces tends to spread.

the same is also true about good companies and effective, influential bosses.
And that’s another reason to choose to be an influencer through servant

Embracing influence

you’d like to fine-tune your servant leadership skills, then let’s consider the

To be an effective servant leader, you must:

Be honest and accountable for your actions to both superiors and subordinatesBe competent and well-suited for the job at handBe willing to learn and grow as a manager – be coachablePossess (or be willing to cultivate) a high degree of emotional intelligence Believe in the organization’s mission and the individual employee’s role in that organization

Self-awareness about one’s own strengths and struggles is vital, even before you try to assess the same in your employees.

the practical application of servant leadership, it’s helpful to remember that
if something is meaningful to your employee, then it should be meaningful to

good example: how you approach an employee prone to asking questions in

you’re working on your own goals and objectives, you may feel frustrated with
probing questions. If your otherwise solid, dependable employee has a need for
additional information, take the time to listen and respond respectively.

Other employees are watching and listening, too. Every encounter, no matter how
brief, is an opportunity to reinforce your influence within your company
culture. Ask yourself a simple question, how do I want to be remembered after
this interaction?

Summing it all up

Becoming a servant leader requires intentionality and a willingness to talk about it, think about it and model it.

For it to take root and flourish requires that you approach every decision and interaction with respectfulness and a servant’s heart, ever mindful of others and their needs. With practice, that positive attitude will spread not only through your office but also into encounters with customers, clients and prospects.

line: Servant leadership can be great for business.

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