Could servant leadership transform the way you operate?

Laura Parker
Mar 2019

It’s one of the most common mistakes made in business – the distinction between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’. Managers are put into a position of power and given responsibility to oversee a team, function or project…

But leaders are born. It’s an inherent quality that compels a person to take charge and guide others. And your leaders aren’t necessarily sat in management positions…

It’s Emma in marketing who is constantly reading business books and sharing her ideas for how to improve…

It’s Scott in sales who brings in a box of doughnuts because he knows the implementations team worked until 10pm to pull a proof-of-concept together for his demo…

It’s Nikki in finance who has a quiet word with the CEO about how amazing Jack is, because he’s struggling at home but still coming to work with a smile on his face everyday and delivering great customer service.

Your leaders are the unsung heroes of your organisation. They’re in every department going above and beyond everyday because they are completely invested in your business, willing it to be the best it can be.

I heard a rumour – servant-led organisations perform better

We’ve all heard of the classic styles of leadership: autocratic, democratic, facilitative, laissez-faire… But have you heard about ‘servant leadership’?

Research from American company, Triune Leadership Services, discovered that servant-led companies report annual pre-tax profits of 24.3%. Compare that to just 10.2% for the S&P 500, and servant leadership starts to look really interesting.

As the name suggests, servant leadership is concerned with putting your people before yourself. It’s effective because it recognises that you hired clever people, and allows everyone to contribute based on their unique skills and experience. It allows each member of your team to showcase their skills and collaborate more effectively to ultimately reach a better outcome.

Servant leadership in the real world

Construction giant Balfour Beatty operates on a global scale and is a market leader. Last year, it was ranked as the UK’s biggest construction contractor by turnover and profit. Employing over 30,000 people, and turning over in excess of £8m a year, Balfour Beatty boasts some impressive credentials.

And its success is largely credited to its CEO, Eric Stenman. Stenman has always conducted his business through servant leadership, focussing on the “personal and professional success of all his employees” because he firmly believes that’s the way business should be done.

How can you adopt a servant leadership style?

It has to start with your people. To place your employees front and centre, you need to focus on them as an individual and the world in which they operate – i.e. their team.

If traditional leadership comes from the top, filtering down through the organisation, servant leadership comes from the bottom.

Think about it…

As the ones doing the work, your employees know the most effective way to get things done. They see where things aren’t working. And they have ideas on how to improve it.

So why would you ignore that valuable insight, instead, choosing to tell them what they should be doing?

BUT…it’s not as simple as just asking the team for feedback. True servant leadership is dependent on creating an atmosphere of teamwork, where everyone feels confident to contribute all the time.

Your 10-point checklist for creating an ‘atmosphere of teamwork’

  1. Have you shared the “big-picture” for where the organisation is heading?
  2. Have you shared your vision for how your team contributes to that big-picture?
  3. Does each individual understand the value their contribution brings to the team?
  4. What are you doing to foster high-levels of interdependence?
  5. How do you recognise individual contribution?
  6. How does the team learn from its mistakes?
  7. How do you encourage creative input from every team member?
  8. Are team members empowered to participate in decision-making?
  9. How is that feedback evaluated, put into practice and communicated?
  10. What actions do you take to demonstrate a humble spirit?