Servant Leadership Harvard Business Review – Summary. Top-down leadership is outdated and counterproductive. By focusing too much on control and the bottom line, and not enough on their employees, leaders make it difficult to achieve the desired results. So the key is to help people feel focused, motivated and energized so they can put their best effort into work. One of the best ways is to adopt the humble mindset of a servant leader. Servant leaders see their key role as serving employees as they explore and grow, while providing tangible and emotional support. They actively seek out the ideas and unique contributions of the employees they serve. This is how servant leaders create a culture of learning and an atmosphere that encourages followers to become the best they can be.
If you’re a leader—no matter how long you’ve been in that position or how hard the journey has been—you’re just a piece of cake unless you bring out the best in your employees. Unfortunately, many leaders lose sight of this.
Servant Leadership Harvard Business Review
Power, as my colleague Anna Innessy has explored, can cause managers to become overly obsessed with results and control, and thus see their employees as a means to an end. As I have found in my own research, this increases people’s fear – fear of missing the target, fear of losing bonuses, fear of failure – and as a result, people stop experiencing positive emotions and their desire to experiment and learn is stifled.
What Exactly Is Servant Leadership?
Take, for example, a UK food delivery service that I studied. Employment for its drivers, who deliver milk and bread to millions of customers every day, has been shrinking as management has become increasingly performance-driven in an effort to cut costs and shorten delivery times. Each week, managers held weekly debriefings with drivers and went through a list of problems, complaints and errors with a clipboard and pen. It was not inspiring on any level, for either side. And finally, the drivers, many of whom had worked at the company for decades, were outraged.
This type of top-down leadership is outdated and, more importantly, counterproductive. By focusing too much on control and the bottom line, and not enough on their employees, leaders make it difficult to achieve the desired results.
So the key is to help people feel focused, motivated and energized so they can put their best effort into work.
. But one of the best ways is to adopt the humble mindset of a servant leader. Servant leaders see their key role as serving employees as they explore and grow, while providing tangible and emotional support.
Servant Leadership Means Good Leaders Eat Last
Honestly, servant leaders have the humility, courage, and insight to recognize that they can benefit from the experiences of others who have less power than they do. They actively seek out the ideas and unique contributions of the employees they serve. This is how servant leaders create a culture of learning and an atmosphere that encourages followers to become the best they can be.
Submissive and servant leadership does not mean that leaders have low self-esteem or adopt an attitude of service. Instead, servant leadership emphasizes that the leader’s responsibility is to increase followers’ ownership, autonomy, and responsibility—to encourage them to think for themselves and test their own ideas.
It sounds deceptively simple: Instead of telling employees how to do their jobs better, start by asking how you can help them do their jobs better. But the consequences of such an approach can be strong.
Consider the food delivery business I mentioned earlier. After its traditional model was disrupted by new delivery companies, the management team decided something needed to change. The company needed to compete on a high level of customer service, but to do so it needed the support of the employees who provided the services. And they needed ideas that could make the company more competitive.
What Makes A Great Leader?
After a meeting with PricewaterhouseCoopers consultants and some training, the management team tested a new format of weekly meetings with drivers.
A new approach? Instead of nagging, each manager was trained to simply ask their drivers, “How can I help you provide great service?” As shown in research by Bradley Owens and David Heckman, managers need to model these types of employee behaviors for employees so that employees can better serve customers.
At first, as you can imagine, there was a lot of skepticism. Drivers’ dislike of managers was high, and trust was low. But the depot managers kept asking, “How can I help you provide great service?” some drivers began to offer. For example, one driver offered new products like Gogurts and fun string cheese that parents could deliver early and sneak a peek into their kids’ lunches before school. Another driver came up with a way to report shortages faster so that customers don’t end up without the products they ordered.
Small changes created a virtuous cycle. As drivers got credit for their ideas and saw them implemented, they became more willing to offer more ideas, which made the depot managers more impressed and more respectful, which increased the willingness of delivery people to give ideas, etc. And the depot managers learned that some of the so-called “mistakes” the drivers were making were actually innovations they had created to streamline processes and still deliver everything on time. These innovations have helped the company serve customers better.
Healing A Broken Spirit: Role Of Servant Leadership
The bottom line is that the people who do the real work in your organization often know better than you how to do great work. Respecting their ideas and encouraging them to try new approaches to improve work encourages employees to bring more of themselves to work.
As one regional manager summed up: “We really thought we knew our suppliers inside out, but we realized that we were missing a lot. Our weekly meetings with clients have become more interactive and the conversations more honest and mature. It’s hard to put into words the changes we’re seeing.”
Sometimes the best way for managers to serve employees – and their organization – is to create a low-risk space for employees to experiment with their ideas. By doing this, managers encourage employees to push the boundaries of what they already know.
For example, when Chongkyu Choi moved from Singapore to China to start his job as Head of Consumer Banking at Standard Chartered, he learned that one of the cultural requirements of his new job was to visit branches and pressure branch managers to reduced expenses. Employees of the branch have been carefully preparing for the visit for weeks.
Servant Leadership In Sport: Theory And Practice
Chongkyu changed the nature of these visits. Instead of asserting his formal authority, he began to appear in the offices unannounced, beginning his visit by serving breakfast to the office staff. Chongkiu then held “meetings” and asked how he could help employees improve their branches. Many employees of the department were very surprised and did not know how to react at first. But Chongkiu’s approach reduced employee anxiety and encouraged ideas and breakthroughs.
In one year, Jungkiu visited more than eighty branches in twenty-five cities. His consistency and willingness to help convinced employees who were skeptical at first. The conversations revealed many simple “pain points” that he could easily solve (such as learning new banking systems or upgrading computer memory so that old computers can run new software).
Other innovations for employees were more extensive. For example, one of the branches in Shanghai was located in a shopping mall. In the commotion, the staff asked Chonkiu if they could open and close at the same time as the mall’s business hours (rather than the branch’s normal business hours). The team wanted to experiment with weekend work. Within months, this branch’s weekend revenue exceeded its entire weekday revenue. This was not an idea that Jeonkyu had even imagined.
These experiments have paid off in terms of the company’s performance. During Jungkiu’s modest two-year tenure, customer satisfaction increased by 54 percent. Customer complaints fell by 29 percent over the same period. The employee turnover rate, which was the highest among all foreign banks in China, fell to the lowest among all foreign banks in China.
How Humble Leadership Really Works
Managers often fail to see the true value of their subordinates, especially “grassroots” workers. But when leaders are humble, show respect, and ask how they can serve employees to improve the organization, the results can be remarkable. And perhaps even more important than better company results, servant leaders behave as better people.
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