The Servant Leader

Over recent years the term ‘Servant Leadership’ became mainstream in business schools and leadership education. Synonymous with Agile Teams the servant leader empowers and enables the teams, effectively reversing the traditional role of staff making the manager successful.

This article from McKinsey Quarterly explores the link between employee satisfaction and how managers are improving the quality of workplace relationships and in particular driving cultural change through servant leadership which includes engaging everyone within the organisation with “compassion and genuine curiosity”.

Substantial research has documented that a good workplace is established when managers are able to provide workers with a work environment that is meaningful (clarity, context of the work; as well as autonomy, tools and guidance to do the work) and offers psychological safety (the absence of interpersonal fear as a driver of employee behaviour).

Servant Leadership
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“a good manager instills a sense of trust and confidence, with a clear set of attainable goals rooted in customer-centric thinking. In such an environment, frontline workers feel empowered and often receive positive feedback from customers and colleagues”

Research shows that ‘Servant Leadership’ enhances team performance and satisfaction and that the managers are happier and find their own roles more meaningful.

Most organisations however do not make promotion decisions based on a leaders ability to focus on employee happiness through servant leadership. Gallup research found that companies fail to choose the leadership candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time.

“Organizations that allow such dynamics to persist miss out on the upside of employee satisfaction. At the extreme, these organizations also risk creating or enabling a toxic culture that can lead to serious performance and health issues—and even death.”

McKinsey Quarterly

Four work practices that you can use to build your ‘Servant Leadership’

  • Empathy, Compassion and Vulnerability: You can’t just magically change your EQ but you can start being genuinely interested. By demonstrating care, empathy and even opening up about personal feelings the best leaders create a strong sense of emotional stability and a powerful bond for the team.
  • Gratitude: Everyone likes to be thanked. When you celebrate success together it helps refresh team members for the next challenge.
  • Positivity: Providing positive feedback reinforces behaviours and builds confidence and drives motivation.
  • Awareness and Selfcare: Leaders must be able to relate to and help themselves before they can do the same for others. The Wellbeing Project have produced research showing that ‘inner wellbeing inspires welldoing’.

And Four Ingredients that Oranisations require to change mindsets and behaviours:

  • Understanding and Conviction: Building a narrative that educates leaders on the potential positive impact they can have on the team that reports to them.
  • Role Modelling: Leaders must be authentic as they role model the change – demonstrating a personal belief and commitment to employee wellbeing.
  • Skill and Confidence Building: As leaders gain seniority they often lose perspective in how others less senior see the world. That lack of empathy can damage relationships and lose trust.
  • Formal Mechanisms: Making employee satisfaction a key metric in performance evaluation.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Servant Leader seeks to build stronger organisation through a powerful team culture where employees are doing meaningful work and have psychological safety.
  • Research shows that done well Servant Leadership enhances team performance
  • The Servant Leader needs excellent Emotional Intelligence to continually focus on how interactions are perceived.
Synopsis of an article from McKinsey Quarterly
The boss factor: Making the world a better place through workplace relationships
By Tera Allas and Bill Schaninger
Published: 22nd September 2020

The Wellbeing Project
Wellbeing Inspires Welldoing: How Changemakers’ Inner Wellbeing Influences Their Work
By Severns Guntzel, J. & Murphy Johnson, N.
Published 2020

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