Wikipedia defines “servant leadership” as a: leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader’s main focus is the thriving of their company or organizations. This approach can be very attractive to employees, as the employee body becomes the main focus of the leader, superseding other goals such as expansion or a fatter bottom line.
However, sometimes the people who aspire to lead – earning a corner office and title to match – are laser focused on results, innovations, and growth and less likely to add the word “servant” to their list of to-dos. Yet, servant leadership may be the most direct path to a legacy of extraordinary leadership.
Breaking Down the Servant Leadership Mindset
So what does a servant leader do if corporate expansion and a robust bottom line aren’t his or her main goals? A servant leader feels responsible for helping people learn and grow. A servant leader is there for the people, not for personal glory. A servant leader is driven to help people feel purposeful, motivated, energized, and contribute at their highest level.
Leaders who practice this mindset don’t tell their people what to do and when to do it. Instead, they have the humility, insight, and courage to acknowledge that they can learn from people at all levels of an organization. They see their responsibility as a leader to increase the confidence, capability, ownership, autonomy, and responsibility of their people. The goal is to bring the best out of others and help them work at a higher level. Servant leaders believe that organizational success will come when the group works together and when they take the role of facilitator rather than sole decision-maker.
Servant Leadership: Six Reason Why Employees Benefit
#1. Employees are valued as individuals.
When people know you care about them as a unique individual, they will trust you because they know you have their best interest at heart. Your investment in them is returned when they become invested in the quality of work they do. Servant leaders know that each employee’s specific job plays a critical role in the overarching business. There is no task too small. Each job is vital to the whole and it is the leader’s job to ensure that every person feel valued for the work he or she does each day.
#2. Employees are encouraged to take risks.
Often the best way for leaders to serve employees is to create a low-risk space for them to experiment with ideas. A servant leader celebrates when employees try innovative approaches to make improvements. These small, fast, and cheap experiments minimize risk and encourage people to access their knowledge and skills for other areas of their life. The key is to learn from the success or failure of each experiment.
#3: Employees are empowered, and even expected, to share their ideas.
The typical leader can fall into the trap of hiring people below their level because they may feel their leadership could be threatened by someone “better.” The servant leader seeks to maximize talent to find better answers and optimize the performance of the team.
#4: Employees come to work without a fear of judgment.
No one likes to be watched and judged. It creates a space of anxiety and fear, and this never brings out the best in a person. A servant leader is there to support and offer guidance. This type of leader openly want to assist in improving the performance of their people – creating a strong bond of trust because employees know their leader has their best interests at heart.
#5: Employees are given the opportunity to learn the why behind the strategy.
Servant leaders are teachers, not micromanagers. They teach by sharing the “why” behind a plan and help people understand the company’s strategy. The employees aren’t there simply to execute. They are encouraged to take the time they need to discover the why…to discuss…to question…to iterate. Servant leaders understand that the people closest to the work have the insights to best solve the most critical problems and that people are most engaged when they have the opportunity to play a role in the plan development.
#6: Employees are supported by servant leaders.
The “tell and sell” approach to leadership is not only outdated, but, more importantly, it is counterproductive. Leaders make it almost impossible for their organization to achieve the desired outcomes when the focus is primarily on end goals or targets, not the people. The servant leader sets the direction on customer experience, safety, operating excellence, and organic growth and then asks, “How can I help you achieve what we care about?” This is the essence of servant leadership—leaders who are there to empower, support, and bring out the best in others. Because when everyone is working at his or her best, the organization benefits too.