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Servant Leadership – It Works

Servant Leadership – It Works

The copier was out of toner. Anyone who understands copiers understands that toner is the ink that actually allows copies to be made. For teachers, who tend to copy reams of learning materials for their students, this can be a disaster. To make matter worse in this particular instance was the fact that the budget for the machine lease and supplies was at $0.00, and two weeks was left in the school year.

The principal called the machine supplier and put two toner cartridges on his personal credit card, then got in his car and went to pick them up. By one hour into the school day, teachers had their copy machine back.

This is a simple example of a characteristic of a servant leader –  the idea that involvement in the detailed needs of the subordinates and commitment to ensure those detailed needs are met.



Why Servant Leadership Works

Peter Economy, author, speaker, and columnist with Inc. Magazine, is a big fan of servant leadership, based upon what his decades of research on what he calls “high-performing” companies – Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, Best Buy, UPS, and more. Here is what he found.

It is a myth that great business leaders were educated in the top-notch universities and hold a commanding presence in their organizations. He did find, however, that leaders of great companies share several other things in common.


  1. In General

They are people-oriented leaders who have not forgotten what it was like to once have been an employee. They are involved in the daily aspects of the business in all of its detail; and they are humble.

They have respect and empathy for their subordinates, understanding that they have needs and goals, and work to assist them in these arenas. They understand that words and intentions are meaningless unless they are backed up by actual behaviors. They serve their organizations well, but they also serve the line employees.


  1. Servant Leaders Behave Well

Successful leadership is built around the behaviors that leaders model for their subordinates. They listen and do not interrupt; they treat everyone with dignity and acknowledge the accomplishments and contributions that their team members make – and they do so publicly. They are also able to admit their mistakes and apologize when necessary. They are willing to spend time in the trenches with their team members, especially during “crunch” times.

Servant leaders never devalue or humiliate others, because they understand that these behaviors destroy trust, engagement and productivity. And when a team member is having difficulty meeting goals or completing tasks, s/he will feel comfortable coming to that leader and being honest about the issues.


  1. Servant Leaders Honor the Opinions of Others

This goes along with listening. A servant leader values diversity of opinions and contributions, and, in addition to listening to them, actively seeks them out. Good leaders of all kinds understand that they do not have all of the answers, and have no need to always be the one with the answers.

When Cheryl Bachelder took over as CEO of Popeye’s Chicken in 2007, the company was in trouble. Its stock had dropped from $34 to $13, and it needed a major infusion of new leadership and new strategies if it was to survive.

Bachelder’s approach was to become a servant of the franchise owners – those people who were on the front lines every day. She states that every decision made was from the vantage point of these owners, and their input about what would make them successful was tantamount. They worked in an equally collaborative environment, and by the end of 2015, Popeye’s had made a complete turnaround, and its stock was trading in the $60 range.


  1. Servant Leaders Encourage and Develop

One of the most important characteristics of servant leaders – one that instills trust, loyalty, and productivity – is that they encourage subordinates to develop themselves and provide opportunities for that development. Servant leaders are not jealous of their “territories,” and have enough confidence in themselves not to see developing subordinates as threats to their positions or their power.



  1. Servant Leaders Assist with Life Issues

Servant leaders are not “wedded” to strict policies and procedures, except for identified “non-negotiables.” There is a flexibility to treat employees as individuals, with personal goals, challenges, and even life crises at times. Is an employee in deep debt and need of credit counseling? Is there a company-wide counseling program available? How about a weight-loss/fitness program? If there is a family illness or other obligation, is there flexibility of work hours or additional time off? These are the types of things that will motivate employees to give their all when they are on the job.

In one instance, a leader had employed a talented data scientist who was of extreme value to the marketing team. Unfortunately, he was from Ukraine, and his English skills were quite poor. That leader knew that he had to get manuals, policies, etc. translated for this young man, so that he was able to feel comfortable. So, he was able to check out some online services, compare translation features and prices, and select a service that could meet this young man’s need immediately.


  1. Servant Leaders are as Transparent as Possible

There are obviously certain C-level issues and endeavors which are not shared openly with company employees. However, it is important for employees to feel that they are a part of a larger vision – of the goals and challenges of the organization for which they work. A servant leader ensures that all information that can be shared is, and provides this on a regular basis. This helps to prevent “water cooler” gossip and uncertainty – a good thing.


Don’t Fall Victim to the Myths About Leadership

In addition to the earlier identified myth that leaders come from elite institutions and hold a “commanding” presence that often inspires awe and perhaps a bit of fear, there is another common myth about servant leadership. That myth states that, by becoming a servant leader, the leader gives away critical power and comes to be known as an “easy mark” by his subordinates or team members. What leaders need to “dump” is this entire concept of “power.” Using influence rather than power, and “selling” rather than “telling,” does not diminish a leader’s role. In fact, it enhances it.




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About The Author

Dina Indelicato

Dina Indelicato is a blogger enthusiast and freelance writer. She is always open to research about new topics and gain new experiences to share with her readers.


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