servant leadership, business management, servant leader, servant leader characteristics, servant leader definition, servant leadership model, what is a servant leader

What is a Servant Leader and How Does a Servant Leader Lead?

what does a good mentor do and what is Servant leadership? Servant leadership is a concept that’s existed since at least the Bronze Age. A common classical example would be that of Jesus of Nazareth washing his disciples’ feet after a long journey, demonstrating that he values them as individuals and team members. But while the idea has been around for some time, it’s not until 1970 that the phrase “servant leader” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf.

Traditional Leader vs a Servant Leader

Servant leadership is a philosophy that theorizes that by enriching and putting the needs of your employees first, you can expect a higher quality of work and efficiency in your organization. The idea is to build a sense of community, and demonstrate that to lead means to serve first.

In a traditional work setting, leadership will focus on markers like financial performance, customer satisfaction, and strategy. And there is, of course, nothing wrong with these focal points. Growth is good, and these stimulate growth. But the servant model takes leadership to the next level. It:

  • Empowers the employee to succeed
  • Offers mentorship and development
  • Offers opportunity rather than micromanagement
  • Builds trust between leadership and employees

In an increasingly technology-based world, basic human needs are often thrown out the window. This leads to frustration, and work dissatisfaction. How on earth can you build a cohesive team when your employees don’t feel valued?

We can see some of the fallout from the traditional model in the Great Resignation that has come on the heels of the pandemic. Many disenchanted employees have shared feeling undervalued, underpaid, and just generally expendable. So they’ve left their jobs in droves looking for more fulfilling employment.

A servant leader creates an environment where their workers feel like a team, rather than cogs in a machine. In a society of social media, personal connection is a real motivator. Especially if you use this connection to give your employees a real sense of meaning in their work.

Some well-known servant led companies include:

  • Zappos
  • Whole Foods
  • Aflac
  • Men’s Wearhouse
  • Nordstroms
  • Starbucks
  • Marriott

These companies are known for their customer service excellence, which is no coincidence. Those who work under servant leadership are highly motivated to create the best experience possible for consumers.

How to Be a Servant Leader

So how does one go about becoming a servant leader? What are some practical ways to put this philosophy into practice?

Use empathy. Just because a person is a strong business leader doesn’t mean that they should neglect understanding the needs of others. In fact, this quality becomes more important when in a key leadership position. A good leader is a good listener, and can use emotional intelligence to help meet the needs of an employee.

Build community. This can be done in a variety of ways. The main idea is to help your colleagues feel part of a shared vision…not so much through the phony “let’s make work like a club so you never leave” vibe of pinball machines, but through real team building. Organize events to show that you value your employees (ones that they would actually enjoy–you can find out by simply asking them), and by modeling and advocating strong communication skills.

Create trust. You need to have a clear vision of your own thoughts and actions. Be mindful of how you handle frustration and stress, and be careful not to show hostile behavior to your staff or colleagues. You want your team to feel comfortable approaching you with problems.

Commit to professional development. The better the team, the better the business. With this in mind, be proactive in helping to develop and improve your employees’ skills and abilities. Personal growth is important as well. Model and develop these improvements with a humble spirit and plenty of encouragement.

Have an eye to the bigger picture. It behooves a servant leader to use past experiences to help guide future decisions. Understanding likely outcomes and having the ability to foresee various consequences of potential actions can help drive and motivate positive change.

The Future of Business Under Servant Leadership

To remain a vital and growing organization in an age of depersonalization, servant leadership is a more important concept to model than ever. The loyalty of a workforce is not a sure thing for any company. Many talented people take to the contract services model, or work several “side hustles” to make due. More and more, people will leave if they don’t feel satisfaction in their position.

This is a waste for many companies who can really use this innovation and talent. By simply implementing a few concepts to create a feeling of value in these workers, you can build an amazing team that will elevate your business or organization.

Living Pono is dedicated to communicating business management concepts with Hawaiian values. Founded by Kevin May,  an established and successful leader and mentor, Living Pono is your destination to learn about how to live your life righteously and how that can have positive effects in your career. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact us here. Also, join our mailing list below, so you can be alerted when a new article is released.

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