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Redefining Leadership: Embracing the Power of Servant Leadership in the Modern Workplace

July 10, 2023

By: Alaina Sims

With the current focus on workplace culture (and how to improve it), servant leadership has become a hot topic. Unfortunately, traditional leadership often brings to mind someone imposing their will on others through aggressive power plays. Servant leadership, though, shows us another way to approach the responsibilities of leading, guiding, and inspiring employees.

What is Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership turns the traditional leadership hierarchy upside down, putting employees and customers at the top of the pyramid, and promotes an others-focused culture. It replaces the idea that leadership is a rank to obtain with the notion that leadership offers the chance to serve others.

Additionally, instead of using force or control to drive performance, a servant leader shares power to promote engagement and productivity. Speaker, business consultant, and author/co-author of more than 60 books, many on the subject of leadership, Ken Blanchard explains, “Servant leaders don’t command people to obey; they invite people to follow.”

Blanchard states that servant leadership is a two-part endeavor:

  • The leadership part focuses on direction, strategy, and results – where you hope to take your people. Rather than being a solo effort, leaders involve others in creating both the vision and the roadmap to getting there.
  • The servant part involves the leader working alongside their people and helping their team bring the vision to fruition.

In addition to viewing employees as active contributors, servant leaders must show strong judgment in their decision-making about how assets are used. As speaker, author, and executive coach John Baldoni puts it, “The servant school of leadership teaches us to husband our resources and to be good stewards of what we have, who we are, and what we want to accomplish. Leaders in business cannot give away the store, otherwise there will be no more business, and consequently they will put people on the street without jobs. There must always be prudence in leadership.”

The Benefits of Servant Leadership

When polled by Adam Focht and Michael Ponton for their Delphi study, Identifying Primary Characteristics of Servant Leadership, scholars in the field of servant leadership agreed the five most prominent attributes of servant leaders are: valuing people, humility, listening, trust, and caring.

When leaders put those characteristics to work, they can reap big dividends in a variety of ways, including:

  • Stronger relationships and levels of trust between leadership and employees
  • Employees who feel more valued, empowered, and engaged, resulting in higher productivity, greater ownership, and more innovation
  • Higher morale
  • Increased retention and lower turnover
  • Increased company longevity as employees are coached to become leaders themselves

But don’t just take my word for it…

Real-world Examples of Servant Leadership in Action

When Cheryl Bachelder took the role of CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in 2007, the company was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. After learning about servant leadership, she came to the “well-founded conclusion that serving the people and the enterprise is by far the best path to superior financial performance.” She started by going on “listening tours,” talking to restaurant workers, guests, and other stakeholders in seven cities. From the information offered in these exchanges, Bachelder determined what the company’s top issues were and developed a plan for correcting them.

In addition to listening, Bachelder embarked on building strong relationships and partnerships with franchise owners. She prioritized making the business owners feel supported by traveling to different cities to meet with them personally. Conversations brought to light areas for improvement within the company, and Bachelder showed her commitment to correcting those problems by discussing timelines for resolution and resources to be allocated.

Bachelder also dedicated her time to coaching her direct reports to become strong leaders themselves. She states the importance of recognizing each person’s strengths, challenges, and distinctly individual qualities. In her blog, she writes, “To contribute to a person’s development, I must start with an understanding of their unique design and how they got to where they are today.”

Though incorporating servant leadership principles may have been a risk, it paid off in many ways. With Bachelder at the helm, Popeyes earned a 95 percent satisfaction level with their franchise partners, making it number one in the restaurant industry in that area. Her investment in her franchisees resulted in their investment back in the company. Restaurant revenues grew 45 percent, bottom-line profits more than doubled, and stocks went from $13 per share when Bachelder first started to $79 per share.

Cheryl Bachelder’s story is compelling and shows the varied and far-reaching benefits of incorporating servant leadership within a company. And these principles can be put into practice in smaller, but no less meaningful, ways too. In the book Lead with LUV, Colleen Barrett, President Emerita of Southwest Airlines, recalls a situation with Southwest’s cofounder and former CEO Herb Kelleher that made a lasting impression on her.

“One of the most influential things that ever happened to me … occurred when I was a young secretary working with Herb. We had a mailer that had to get out, and everything that could go wrong with it went wrong. It had to be in the mail the next day. Well, the day before, the copy machine broke down and the postage was somehow wrong. So all of these envelopes that had been stuffed had to be retyped, and this was not when you could just push a button and it would happen. You did it all yourself, manually. So, it was about eight o’clock at night, the night they had to be postmarked, and we had to start all over again.

“Herb sat right there with me until four o’clock in the morning, on the floor, licking envelopes and putting stamps on envelopes, because we didn’t have a postage machine. I’ll never forget it. My gosh. And he could have even thought that it was my fault that the mailing had gone wrong. But he didn’t. He just jumped right in there with me. That was a really valuable lesson for me, so I’ve always tried to remember it and emulate it.”

How Omnia Can Help Your Servant Leadership Efforts

In his book Simple Truths of Leadership, Ken Blanchard asserts that effective servant leaders do not assume that they know what motivates their individual employees. Echoing Cheryl Bachelder’s sentiments, he says servant leaders understand that they have to use different approaches for guiding and inspiring each employee.

We at Omnia couldn’t agree more, and our behavioral assessment and suite of professional development reports gives leaders the targeted insights they need to understand what drives each person, the strengths to further develop, and the challenge areas to improve. In addition, our leadership style report helps executives, managers, and anyone in leadership understand their own unique personality dimensions and how to grow and improve in their own roles.

Contact us today to let us be of service to you and become your trusted partner in helping your business thrive!


Also read: 

Revolutionize Leadership by Understanding Your Personal Style
5 Leadership Traits of the Founding Fathers to Reflect on This Fourth of July
The Visionary Personality Type
Personality Spotlight: The Logistical Driver
A Call for Revolutionary Leadership in Today's Context

Alaina Sims

Alaina first joined Omnia in 2003 as an analyst and was sold on its mission from the start. So much so that, after a move and brief time away, she came back in 2013 and now works as the Senior Manager of Profile Analysis and Workflow. She writes and edits various Omnia products and is the resident “follow-upper” to help keep the department running smoothly. She is grateful for a role that marries her love of data analysis and the written word in a way that enables her to help clients find (and keep) productive, fulfilled employees.

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