One of the more interesting concepts to make itself known in the corporate world in recent years is that of servant leadership. While it’s not a new concept in and of itself, it seems that more and more leaders are embracing it as a leadership style. The concept, while not likely familiar to many outside the business world, went a bit public a few years back when Mike Matheny, the former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, mentioned that he began studying it after a concussion ended his playing career in 2006.
In servant leadership, the main goal of the leader is to serve his or her employees by putting their needs first and helping them develop their skills so they perform as effectively as possible. A servant leader is empathetic, seeing situations from others' perspectives, making decisions with the team's best interests in mind, supporting employees, involving them in decisions, and ensuring that all employees have the resources and knowledge they need to do their jobs.
Although the term servant leadership was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970, the practice is anything but new. In fact, it’s been in place for centuries. It’s been said that servant leadership can often result in more engagement and trust among the team and with the leader, stronger relationships with other stakeholders and even more innovation.
Servant leaders possess several distinct qualities, one of which is listening to employees. It’s well-known that the ability to listen -- really listen -- to others is a key component of effective communication.
Often, traditional leaders make decisions and issue directives, but might not be interested in what their employees have to say. Or, they might listen but not really “hear” them. In servant leadership, however, leaders give employees their full attention and listen closely, even observing their nonverbals such as body language, then provide feedback.
Another component is persuasion, which replaces the use of authority in the traditional model to spur employees to action and to motivate them. For this to be effective, employees need to perceive you as an expert. Of course, as the company owner, CEO or senior manager, your title alone positions you to delegate, question and demand.
As a recognized expert with substantial knowledge who practices servant leadership, you can leverage your hard-earned expertise, along with a sense of empathy and strong communication skills to inspire, build rapport and perhaps even motivate more effectively.
One component of the servant leadership model that many leaders actively use, whether they practice this leadership style or not, is building a community among employees. The objective here is to sort of create a family or neighbourhood type of environment in the workplace. It’s always optimal for employees who work together to have respect and consideration for each other, and by building a community of employees a leader can engender that. It might be that the workspace is designed to provide opportunities for greater interaction and collaboration. It can extend to planning different types of social gatherings through which employees can get to know each other as people. Or maybe it’s a regularly scheduled event, like a group breakfast or lunch on an ongoing basis.
Ideally, whether you practice servant leadership or take a more traditional approach, always remember that your employees are your most important assets. Take care of them, treat them well, show them respect, and let them know you appreciate their contributions to the success of your company. When you do this, and they understand their roles and feel supported, the company benefits.