4 Reasons to Invest in Servant Leadership
By Meghan Walsh, EdD
Dean, School of Adult Learning and New Initiatives
There are many leadership philosophies and styles in the world of work today.
While transformational leadership, strategic leadership, coaching styles of leadership, and inspirational leadership philosophies certainly have value and are needed in certain places at certain times, one leadership philosophy has been gaining significant traction in recent years: Servant Leadership.
Robert Greenleaf first used the term “Servant Leadership” in the 1970’s to define leadership that starts with the desire to serve first. Today, the Robert K Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership states that “a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible” (Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, 2021).
Taking the time to invest in developing Servant Leadership skills across the institution can have impactful results. Here are four of the many reasons to practice Servant Leadership:
Servant leaders are listeners first. They take the time to connect with each member of the team, hearing their stories, asking how they like to be celebrated, how they like feedback, and what supports they need. They ask them real questions about the work they are doing and about how they think the organization can improve. Then, they remember, and they actually do what was asked of them. They empower their team members to speak up and to share when they do this. It’s not rocket science, its service, and service is personal. When a person feels seen and heard, when they see their ideas being considered and acted upon, it makes them feel cared for and like they belong.
- Servant leaders foster a sense of belonging on their teams.
When a team is led by a true servant leader, ethical decision-making becomes easier. It tracks that if an employee trusts their manager, they don’t need to hide things. Also, if a supervisor is truly a servant first, she is empowering every member of the team to do and be their best at all times. Servant leaders develop trust by being honest, by listening and responding accordingly, and by holding themselves and others accountable. In a culture of trust, ethical decision-making abounds.
- Servant Leadership fosters a culture of ethics.
Problems cannot be solved by the same people always asking the same questions. Diversity of thought stems from diverse teams. Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs only work if all three elements are present. Diverse teams won’t remain diverse for long if they are not in an equitable situation and they are not made to feel included. Servant leaders foster inclusion by listening, by serving individual needs, by remaining humble, and by demonstrating true empathy.
- It’s an important part of any DEI strategy.
In a recent study, Millennials and members of Gen Z listed “the organization cares about employees’ wellbeing” as the number one characteristic they look for in a potential employer (O’Boyle, 2021). Servant leaders, when acting as true servants first, demonstrate care in all they do. As these younger generations become the largest percentage of people in the workforce, employers will need to ensure they have servant leaders in place if they want to attract and retain talent into the future.
- Servant leaders care about their employees’ wellbeing – and that matters to the younger generations in the workforce.
All types of organizations, from Fortune 500 companies to small non-profits and everywhere in between can benefit from having servant leaders across divisions and teams. Those looking to introduce Servant Leadership to their team or enhance the Servant Leadership of themselves or their managers and directors, should make the small and impactful investment of a Servant Leadership Badge from Alverno College. Throughout the one-course program, leaders will learn theory, and apply it in practice, in reflection, and in networking with other servant leaders. LEARN MORE.