Using Servant Leadership to Improve Corporate Culture

Servant leadership enables employees to self-manage and make decisions which leads to a more positive organizational culture.
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By definition, the servant usually ranks low in the hierarchy of any organization. The servant serves and has little status. Servant leadership turns this concept on its head. Servant leadership, done right, can improve your corporate culture.

Servant Leadership Defined

Servant leadership comes from an essay written by Robert Greenleaf in 1970, “The Servant Leader.” In this essay, Greenleaf’s theory was that the traditional pyramid of organizational leadership should be flipped upside down, demonstrating that leadership should provide support for the people doing the work, instead of the workers providing for the leadership.

This model expresses the concept that the leader exists to provide guidance, direction, and assistance while the employees are empowered to work and make decisions on their own.

The Cultural Benefits of Servant Leadership

When you have a culture that consists of top-down leadership, decisions generally come from the top office. The CEO may be knowledgeable, but they aren't the one who is meeting face to face with customers, designing marketing campaigns, or interviewing candidates. When all direction comes from senior managers, the decisions often don’t reflect reality.

In servant leadership, the manager's attitude communicates, “I hired you to do your job, and I’m going to trust you to do it. What can I do to help you?”

This type of leadership allows employees to share their ideas and use their expertise. When they need help, they have senior leaders with more experience who can help them. People are more fulfilled and satisfied with their work when given the chance to do their best.

Examples of the kind of help employees may need include ideas, resources, or assistance in dealing with inefficient work processes.

This type of leadership style doesn't mean that employees are free to do what they want. They are free to complete their tasks within established guidelines and intent. If leadership has given clear guidance and intent of the work to be accomplished, employees become more free to complete their work.

Servant Leadership Is Not Easy

To be effective, a leader practicing this style of leadership will need to be an accomplished coach and mentor. They will need to be able to trust their employees, but be able to verify their work and effectiveness at the same time.

But as you are busy ensuring your team has everything they need to do their job, you must also address the traditional roles of management. You'll need to provide feedback, ensure tasks are completed on time, generate reports, and make sure the budget is being followed.

Employees must understand that with the freedom provided in this style, they need to increase their communication with their leadership. A sure way to revert a leader back to using draconian methods is to not keep them informed. You'll need to reinforce communication to be effective.

Servant leadership requires thoughtfulness, care, and proactive planning. A servant leader needs expertise in hiring a team so that people who are capable of working without constant supervision are hired.

An example of an organization that has embraced servant leadership is Wegmans Foods Markets. Wegmans is a company that continuously makes the Great Place to Work list. They empower their cashiers to make decisions, and their corporate employees work in the stores to understand how they can best provide support.

Making the Change to a Culture of Servant Leadership

Generally, if you manage employees, you can switch your own management style. It may be best to ensure that it will work in the industry and business you are in. Servant leadership is very much about doing your job as a manager and leader, while creating an environment in which the lives, work, and welfare of those you serve are just as important to you as they are to them.