Traditionally, society hasn’t thought of company leaders as servants. But to deal more effectively with today’s changing business dynamics, more companies are incorporating servant leadership to benefit employees and the community as well as the bottom line.
Servant leadership is especially important and applicable in a post-COVID business world, when millions are quitting their jobs and CEOs are trying to stabilize their work cultures, says Jason Randall, CEO of Questco and ForbesBooks author of Beyond The Superhero: Executive Leadership For The Rest Of Us.
“Servant leadership is leading in a manner that encourages growth and success in others,” Randall says. “By investing in them, you as a leader instill a deeper buy-in.
“Leaders who are comfortable with a commanding style may find servant leadership counterintuitive, as though showing empathy to employees is an invitation to be taken advantage of. But when the servant leader listens with empathy to an employee who is strained by conflicting obligations, that leader is more likely to make accommodations such as flexible work schedules. These accommodations benefit productivity and the culture.”
Randall says that overly controlling leaders shut down their top talent and thus are a hindrance to company progress.
“As Steve Jobs said, ‘It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do,’ ” Randall says. “Getting divergent perspectives, as servant leaders do, is essential for company growth and individual engagement and fulfillment. Leaders who commonly resort to issuing commands are conditioning their people to not take much ownership.
“Employees who believe they are not valued for their minds won’t bother to come up with fresh ideas – or they will take their fresh ideas elsewhere.”
Randall says there are six hallmarks of the servant leader:
- This means making sure there is adequate time in meetings for people to have their say, whether it involves venting frustrations, questioning, or establishing collaboration. “Giving time over to the employees and coaching them is really valuable to their development and contribution,” Randall says. “In too many organizations, senior leaders mostly huddle behind closed doors, and if they claim to have an open-door policy, it becomes a joke.”
- “Because the servant leader is extending a lot of trust in individuals, it’s necessary to address any failures in a straightforward way,” Randall says. “But improving performance is not likely when the leader’s voice is angry or hostile.”
- Randall says that consistency in meetings and day-to-day procedures can be a challenge in the commotion of a growth organization, but the more consistency, the better the response from the workforce.
- “Being aware of and sensitive to the feelings, thoughts and experiences of others is a key characteristic of servant leaders,” Randall says. “Nobody can be a truly effective leader without understanding the humanity behind the individuals they are expecting to lead.”
- The starting point for patience, Randall says, is when leaders recognize they can’t do everything themselves. “In the long term, it’s important for leaders to understand that we have to balance our lofty goals with the fact we have fallible human beings who must grow to achieve them,” he says. “The servant leader, who is patient, recognizes that team members are precious, and weathering the peaks and valleys will make everybody stronger.”
- The servant leader encourages a freedom to experiment, which also means a freedom to stumble and learn from it, Randall says. “To delegate responsibilities, to encourage employees to speak up and be creative, leaders must show trust in the whole team,” he says. “Trust is the underpinning of the entire servant leadership approach of building a strong team.”
“Servant leaders get results, and they make everyone’s life better in the process,” Randall says. “They focus not only on business outcomes, but also on the humanity of the team.
Jason Randall is CEO of Questco, an HR outsourcing company, and ForbesBooks author of Beyond The Superhero: Executive Leadership For The Rest Of Us. Formerly he was director of brand marketing for Maritz and vice president/managing director of Insperity. Randall earned his MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School Management.