Servant Leadership in the Human-Centric Workplace: Positive Effects for Employees and Leaders
By Fast Company Executive Board
Leaders in innovative companies often try new things in an effort to make positive change and spur progress.
From production methods to office layouts, nothing is off the table in the search for excellence. One of the most popular areas for experimentation is leadership style. Previously, we’ve written about visionary leadership, how to be a more passionate leader, and the risks and benefits of disruptive leadership.
In this post, we’ll take a look at a style of leadership that has gained popularity recently in conjunction with the human-centric workplace movement — servant leadership.
Servant Leadership Qualities vs Traditional Leadership Qualities
What is servant leadership, and how does it differ from traditional forms of leadership?
According to Dr. Gary Yukl, professor emeritus at University at Albany, The State University of New York, “Servant leadership in the workplace is about helping others to accomplish shared objectives by facilitating individual development, empowerment, and collective work that is consistent with the health and long-term welfare of followers.” This model turns the traditional model of workers serving leaders on its head.
Traditional leadership is hierarchical, with a top-down approach to decision-making. Leaders (directors, managers, etc.) are the authority figures, using power to direct and control their employees.
Leaders in a traditional model are meant to have the best interests of the company in mind, and to employ unbiased, wise perspectives to make decisions. Unfortunately, the “company first” hustle mindset that has dominated business over the past few decades has resulted in pressure on leaders to push for higher performance even when it sends employees into exhaustion and turnover.
In the worst scenarios, leaders in traditional structures can prioritize their own needs and goals over that of other team members or even the company, leading to abuses of power and a culture of fear and mistrust.
In contrast, servant leadership requires leaders to prioritize the needs of team members, empowering each person to succeed. Using empathy and compassion, servant leaders encourage their team members to grow, develop, and perform at their best.
Servant leaders delegate and share responsibility for decision-making and execution, recognizing that employees are more likely to be invested in decisions they help to make.
Proponents of this model say servant leadership creates a culture of collaboration, trust, and accountability.
So, while traditional leadership emphasizes hierarchy and control, servant leadership values empowerment and collaboration.
What Are the Benefits of Servant Leadership?
So, does this crazy, upside-down structure actually work? In fact, it’s been shown to have significant positive effects for both employees and leaders.
Benefits of Servant Leadership for Employees
Servant leadership is, perhaps obviously, great for workers. Research has shown that “Servant leadership was found to have a direct and indirect relationship with employees' career satisfaction, service recovery performance, and innovative work behavior.”
Employees of servant leaders are:
Each team member is encouraged to develop skills and achieve their full potential. The more skilled an employee is, the greater an asset they are to the business.
Employees are motivated to succeed because they are trusted to take on important tasks, and are involved in determining what those tasks are. We know that disengaged employees are a huge drain on businesses, so keeping them engaged is crucial.
When workers feel valued, supported, and respected, they share a sense of ownership for outcomes they have helped to outline.
Employees are encouraged to express opinions and concerns. This promotes a culture of innovation and improvement, and helps to identify and address friction points before they become bigger problems.
Because the processes of servant leadership are collaborative and transparent, team members know they can trust one another and their leaders. Decisions and responsibility are shared, and employees are encouraged to work together toward common goals.
When employees feel that their leaders care about them, they are more likely to stay with the organization and give their best effort.
Benefits of Servant Leadership for Leaders
So, the benefits of servant leadership for employees translate into benefits for the company. But what’s in it for you, the leader? Plenty.
Servant leadership requires leaders to be self-aware and reflective. To prioritize the needs of others, servant leaders must be aware of their own biases and motivations. Developing self-awareness contributes to both personal and professional growth.
Servant leaders work to understand the needs and perspectives of their team members. Practicing empathy leads to a deeper understanding of others and helps leaders build stronger relationships with their employees and everyone else in their lives.
Servant leaders prioritize communication and feedback to create an open and transparent workplace culture. Working to communicate more clearly and openly with a team improves a leader's communication skills and helps them build stronger relationships in and out of the workplace.
Peace of mind (Less stress!)
When decision-making responsibility is shared and employees are engaged, stress is reduced for leaders. Several people’s input goes into every decision, so it’s far less likely that potential pitfalls will be overlooked, allowing leaders to rest easier.
How to Measure the Effectiveness of Servant Leadership
As a leader in a high-performance business setting, when you try something new, you need to know how to measure success. Given that the benefits of servant leadership are primarily intangibles like employee satisfaction, what, if anything, can you measure to prove ROI of servant leadership?
Luckily, there are some possibilities.
Employee engagement surveys can help leaders understand how connected employees feel to their work, team, and organization. High retention rates are also indicative of strong employee motivation and engagement.
Track key performance indicators, such as productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction, to evaluate the impact of servant leadership on team performance.
Individual Growth and Development:
Track the progress of team members' skill development, career advancement, and personal satisfaction to assess the impact of servant leadership on their growth.
By evaluating factors like these, leaders can determine whether their efforts to create a servant leadership culture are achieving their intended outcomes.
Serve Your Employees, Boost Your Business, and Improve Yourself
Servant leadership is about empowering employees to be and do their best.
If you’d like to see your teams more engaged, more skilled, and more collaborative, servant leadership might be for you. If you’d like to decrease your own stress and build empathy and self-awareness, servant leadership might be for you.
If you’re a senior leader interested in exploring leadership styles and other strategies for success, connect with Fast Company Executive Board to see if you qualify for our vetted professional organization of senior executives, founders, and industry experts who are defining the future of business.