How to Use Servant Leadership to Transform Your Organization
Are you ready to fulfill your leadership potential and supercharge the growth of your business? Start by turning the traditional leadership paradigm upside-down in favor of a revolutionary approach called Servant Leadership. Defined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970, Servant Leadership suggests that the best leaders put their employees first, facilitating a workplace environment that empowers individuals to develop their own unique skills and achieve optimal performance, thereby benefiting the organization as a whole. Although it sounds fundamentally contradictory, progressive leaders across some of the world’s most powerful companies credit Servant Leadership with increasing employee engagement and workplace morale, boosting productivity, and lowering turnover rates.
Here are four simple ways to use Servant Leadership to transform your employees’ workplace experience — and your company’s success:
Build Trust through Self Awareness and Vulnerability: Servant Leadership starts at the top, and requires that a leader drop all selfish pretensions and ego in order to be truly service-oriented. One of the best ways to manifest this mindset is to request honest feedback from your employees, either through one-on-one meetings or anonymous online evaluations. This demonstrates that you value your employee’s opinions, and helps create a safe space where each individual feels appreciated and understood. This will, in turn, increase employee trust in your leadership proficiency and build a sense of community. As Simon Sinek, visionary leader and best-selling author, famously wrote, “Happy employees ensure happy customers. Happy customers ensure happy shareholders – in that order.” Trust is the cornerstone of every successful team — and it’s up to the Servant Leader to earn that trust.
Demonstrate Active Listening: When it comes to communication, most of us are “Passive Listeners” — we may register the speaker’s dialogue, but rarely pay full attention. In order to make your employees feel heard and valued, practice Active Listening instead. A good Active Listener engages in mindful conversation, listening carefully without judgment or interruption, and provides thoughtful responses that demonstrate understanding, empathy, and encouragement. One of the biggest flaws of traditional corporate hierarchy is that some of the brightest ideas never come to light because a team member is too afraid of criticism or judgement to share their thoughts. Active Listening offers a unique opportunity to discover new solutions and strategies from the only people who are intrinsically involved in the daily operations of the company — your employees. Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeyes and the Servant Leader responsible for its turnaround, said it best, “The biggest distinction of a leader who serves others versus themselves is the ability to listen. When you listen, you hear people's objections, anxieties, and fears — and you also hear the solutions.”
Identify Individual Strengths to Empower Growth: Servant Leaders actively involve all team members in defining group goals and milestones to create a shared sense of responsibility and power. Yet it’s equally important to meet with each employee to discuss their personal interests and the best ways to support their pursuit of purpose and growth. The best leaders identify, leverage, and develop an individual’s strengths and talents so that they can make a more impactful contribution to their team. In fact, studies show that empowered employees perform better on projects they’re genuinely interested in, so identifying each team member’s passion is vital to group success. You can harness individual talents and create a growth-oriented mindset by teaching your employees how to set motivating goals and visualize achievement — both for themselves and their team.
Relinquish Power in Favor of Persuasion: Instead of exploiting their position of authority to justify coercion, the most effective Servant Leaders use persuasion — not power — to guide the problem-resolution process. Persuasion eliminates the self-centered focus that often plagues leaders and seeks to create group consensus using a combination of active listening, presentation of facts, respectful questioning, and empathetic encouragement tactics. Persuasion also teaches employees to find solutions more effectively next time, resulting in improved employee satisfaction, independence, and workplace morale.
From Starbucks and Southwest Airlines to FedEx and Marriott, companies of all types have benefited from the Servant Leadership model — and it’s easy to understand why. By empowering employees to fulfill their individual potential and create group success in a supportive, service-oriented environment, everyone — from the founder to the new intern — wins.