An authoritarian leadership style may have been the go-to in years gone by. The way that organisations and employees work has changed drastically over the past few decades. A great example of this is the flexible working trend.
Even before the global pandemic, flexible and remote work was at an all-time high .A 2019 white paper released by the Chartered Instituted of Personnel and Development (CIPD) indicated that 26.8% of the UK workforce had some kind of flexible arrangement. Why? Because employees who have more freedom have more motivation, produce higher quality work and are more productive. And because more and more leaders are realising that following servant leadership principles is the best way to get the most out of the people they work with.
What is servant leadership?
The idea of servant leadership has been around for centuries. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu first explored the concept in 500 BCE. He wrote: “All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.” This leadership style requires that individuals act with the intention of creating authority rather than exerting power. The aim is to create synergy between leaders and their subordinates. This in order to empower employees, promote innovation and increase the well-being of staff members.
Rather than the guidance, direction and motivation that a ‘traditional’ leader provides their team members with. A servant leader focuses on helping those who work for them. This shouldn’t be misconstrued as doing their subordinates jobs. It is rather helping those they lead to develop personally and professionally. The idea here is that shifting the focus from the performance of the company to the employees. It creates individuals who are knowledgeable, skilled and motivated – which helps to improve the organisation in any case.
Recently, a study from the Chicago Business School at the University of Illinois showed that employees working at restaurants that had servant leaders outperformed their colleagues at other stores by 6% and were 50% more likely to remain in their jobs. The restaurants also saw an 8% increase in positive customer service ratings. Looking at these stats, it seems like there’s never been a better time to think about leading to serve.
Servant leadership principles embraced by famous businesspeople
Such leadership brings all of the benefits it can bring employees and organisations. It’s little surprise that some of today’s most successful businesses have been founded on the idea of servant leadership. Google being one. The tech giant has found that ensuring that their policies are employee friendly not only increases staff retention and innovation. But also ups productivity and revenue. Let’s take a look at some of the leadership principles embraced by Google and other top businesses run by famous businesspeople.
When it comes to servant leadership, empathy is one of the most important leadership principles you can master. Understanding and relating to what your team is feeling – as individuals and as a group – is fundamental to ensuring success. Getting to know your team, what their strengths, weaknesses, passions and fears are, will go a long way to helping them make the most of the opportunities that are presented to them in the professional setting. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says, empathy “will become ever more valuable in a world where the torrent of technology will disrupt the status quo like never before”.
Tied to empathy is awareness, amongst the leadership principles. Servant leaders not only care deeply about their team members, but strive to make themselves aware of the exact challenges that those individuals face. A great example of a leader who embodied this principle is Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla. After some of the individuals who worked on the production line in one of his manufacturing sites were injured, he promised to perform the tasks himself to identify ways in which the ergonomics could be improved.
3. Building community
Cultivating relationships not only with team members but also with those who your company interacts with in the broader environment is a great way to enact servant leadership. Consumer goods company Unilever is a great example of this. Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman institutes mandatory weeklong stays for executives with families living in rural Vietnam. This, he says allows the executive to put themselves to the purpose of others and in doing so, becoming better off.
Servant leaders don’t rely on coercion; that is, having their subordinates follow orders as a result of hierarchy. Rather, they use dialogue to engage and persuade their staff, helping them to see the how an action can benefit them and their team. Steve Jobs of Apple was widely regarded as a master in this regard. Those who worked with him note how he was able to achieve seemingly impossible goals using this tactic.
A common trait of all servant leaders: they don’t sweat the small stuff. Virgin CEO Richard Branson is a big believer in conceptualisation. According to him, rather than focusing on minor tasks and short-term deadlines, leaders should look at the big picture and delegate work to the team members they’ve taken time to build up.
To ensure success in business today, you need to be concerned about more than just the bottom line. While profits, dividends and market share are still factors in success, their importance pales in comparison to the growth of employees. Facebook is great example of how investing in people can work out well for a business. Paid maternity and paternity leave for new parents, free lunch and mental healthcare are just a few of the benefits CEO Mark Zuckerberg provides that make the social media giant the best company to work for according to Glassdoor.
Stewardship is all about ensuring that you lead in an ethical way with a focus on improving the lives not only of those who work with you, but also those who your business serves. Sweet treat company Ben & Jerry’s emanates excellence in this regard, ensuring that the way the manufacture their product brings about social and environmental change. Since taking the helm, CEO Matthey McCarthy has ensured the business constantly performs impact assessments to measure and improve the performance of its supply chain management.
There are a variety of ways in which to institute servant leadership in your business – or life. However, most experts on the topic agree that there is one key leadership principle to ensuring that your business is successful: a leader’s desire to serve their employees. Focus on this, research says, and you are just about guaranteed to reap the rewards.
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