What Is Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership is a popular approach used by executives and managers to put the needs of their teams above their own. In an organizational setting, leaders can take this approach to organically promote accelerated performance: when teams’ needs are met, they’ll have all of the tools and resources they need to excel. By incorporating some of the concepts of servant leadership into your existing performance management and OKR goal setting framework, you can continuously accelerate results. Let’s find out how.

When Was the Concept of Servant Leadership Born?

To see how servant leadership works in today’s business landscape, it’s helpful to first understand how the concept originated. Robert K. Greenleaf is credited for creating the term “servant leadership,” which was first used in an essay he published in 1970. Nonetheless, the basic principles of the leadership approach have been in place for centuries.

In fact, servant leadership is a complementary practice to democratic approaches, in that both styles of leadership aim to acknowledge the perspective of all contributors. Servant leadership is also a means of providing the support teams need to achieve both individual and company goals. Additionally, it gives them an ability to offer input in key decision making when appropriate. As a result, this approach facilitates a healthy corporate culture in which trust, commitment, and engagement can thrive.

What Are Some Key Principles of Servant Leadership?

According to Inc., servant leaders believe that every team member is valuable and “deserves civility, trust, and respect.” These types of leaders also believe that teams can accomplish more when they have an identifiable purpose beyond themselves which is easily identifiable.

That latter point is one reason why it’s so important to link teams’ individual goals to shared company goals through a system like OKR goal setting. By aligning their efforts with top company priorities, servant leaders give their teams a direct line of sight into how their contributions impact the organization as a whole.

How Can a CEO or Manager Become a Servant Leader?

The former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, Larry C. Spears, identifies ten key characteristics that managers can develop to become a servant leader:

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Awareness
  5. Persuasion
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the Growth of People
  10. Building Community

Forbes also states that leaders must allow their teams to see them serving, and encourage them to join in. Servant leaders should invest in their people by giving them their time, should show they care, and should not place any restrictions on how willing they are to serve their teams.

Now, let’s identify ways to incorporate these qualities of servant leadership into your own ongoing performance management framework.

How Can Ongoing Performance Management Encompass Servant Leadership?

Modern ongoing performance management is the practice of managing team on a continual basis, instead of approaching management as an “event.” It incorporates activities such as OKR goal setting, ongoing feedback, and development planning, and rewards. You can incorporate elements of servant leadership into each of these activities.

For instance, an effective way to establish and sustain an ongoing feedback loop is to hold weekly one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports. Through these brief check-ins, you’ll not only gain insights into goal progress, but you can also listen to teams’ updates, empathize with their concerns, and have the foresight to coach them to overcome any potential obstacles they may encounter. You can also use one-on-ones to show that you’re committed to growth by regularly asking about each team member’s developmental aspirations, and then creating and implementing a plan to help them get there.

Another ongoing performance management strategy that can also support servant leadership is the use of an employee pulse tool. These reports are sent to employees weekly and allow managers to ask questions such as, “What are your plans for the upcoming week?” and “What do you need from me?” They can also offer anonymous-response questions to gauge employee morale and engagement, which helps to support the servant leadership doctrine of building a community. By regularly asking questions, managers and executives can show that they’re fully committed to serving their teams’ needs.

Most importantly, servant leaders always actively listen to their teams. By using the ongoing performance management methods described here, you can become a better listener and thus incorporate servant leadership into your practices build a healthier, more performance-driven corporate culture.

What else? Are you familiar with servant leadership? If so, which principles do you find most effective?

Do you manage a company or teams (either as a CEO, a senior executive, a middle manager or even a front-line manager)? Do you set and track objectives? Does aligning employee performance to business goals matter, and are you responsible for driving results? If so, please check out a live demo of Atiim OKR & Goals Management Software and we’d love to hear what you think about it. Thank you!

Image Credit: Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash



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