Servant Leadership: The Key to Increased Employee Engagement?

For the past months, the Infosurv Insider has been writing extensively about Employee Engagement and what the C-suite needs to know. One topic we have yet to explore has a lot of promise for unlocking the challenge of Employee Engagement. Servant Leadership is, according to the Servant Leadership Institute, “a set of behaviors and practices that turn the traditional “power leadership” model upside down; instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.”

Instead of the leader being the source of all ideas and knowledge (as in the power leadership model), “when leaders shift their mindset and serve first, they unlock purpose and ingenuity in those around them, which results in higher performance and engaged, fulfilled employees.”

Many successful companies believe in the Servant Leadership model. Across the globe and across industries, Servant Leadership seems to work. Here are a sample of advocates: Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, The Container Store, Chick-fil-A, The National Park Service of the United States, The Cleveland Clinic, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, McKinsey, Tata Group, Panasonic, The U.S. Marine Corps, The Navy Seals, Zappos, and many others. Large and small, these companies and others are devoted to the Servant Leadership Model. Additionally, many leadership consultants include Servant Leadership in the underpinnings of their work, including Howard Behar, Jim Collings, Steven Covey, Adam Grant, Daniel Pink, and Simon Sinek. Why? Because it works.

Servant Leadership Myths

As with any new concept, there is a lot of misunderstandings about Servant Leadership. Here are a few of misconceptions:

  • Servant leadership is “soft.” Servant leadership is not all talk, no actions. As you can see from above, Servant leadership is about winning. Servant leaders make tough decisions, want great results, and can get them.
  • Servant leadership is faith-based. Many world religions include servant leadership principles, but one does not have to be a persona of faith to practice – and benefit from – servant leadership in the workplace.
  • Servant leadership can’t be learned. Servant leadership is based on a set of principles and practices that can be learned and studied. Some people are born as servant leaders, some become that way through life.

Why Should We Embrace Servant Leadership?

Much has been written (including by us) about Employee Engagement and its benefits to businesses. None the less, in spite of many articles, lectures, TedTalks, and keynote speeches, employee engagement nationally remains stuck at concerningly low levels. According to Gallup, there is a “worldwide employee engagement crisis.” Further, in their 2016 report on the topic, they write, “Gallup has been tracking employee engagement in the U.S. since 2000. Though there have been some slight ebbs and flows, less than one-third of U.S. employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces during these 15 years. According to Gallup Daily tracking, 32% of employees in the U.S. are engaged — meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Worldwide, only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged.”

Looking at the companies and consultants who have become advocates of Servant Leadership, and their business results and influence, and it seems like this is a topic we must explore. If Servant Leadership can create “joy in the workplace” and profits to the bottom line, this could be an important competitive advantage.

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