The Importance of Servant Leadership within Organizations

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Servant leadership has never been more important than it has in 2020. And whilst it has been around for a long time, it is certainly having its day in the sun. But what exactly is it?

Angie Main is an organisational development specialist who helps teams and leaders deliver better outcomes- not to mention an authority on all things servant leadership. 

Along with S&S Chief Strategic Coach Adrian Stalham and host Pat Lynes, the panel debunk the myth that servant leadership is all fluff and uncover the staggering cost associated with a lack of engagement.

They explore why organisations get it so wrong and how vital it is that leaders practice it with their teams in the remote working era that is 2020.

Key Takeaways
  • Fundamentally, Servant Leadership it’s a way of operating, thinking and working where you’re equally trying to balance a concern for results and relationships.
  • It’s about understanding your role as leader as an attribute rather than a position. When you do that, you start to think about how you can serve others and your team. 
  • 500 CEOs were asked (pre-covid) what keeps you awake at night. Number one was a lack of trust in their organisation. When you coach and empower and distribute that power and decision-making, you will get trust.
  • A lot of senior leaders don’t want to put the spadework into being good coaches. How disciplined are you around working on your listening, coaching, retrospection and reflection? How good are you at celebrating success and being positive? All those things are hard work. A lot of organisations don’t make provision for learning and reflection.
Case Study: Southwest Airlines

Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher dies at 87

Herb Kelleher, Co-Founder and later CEO of Southwest Airlines.

Southwest had quarter on quarter success for years and were incredibly successful. They suddenly had a profit warning which meant there was a risk that nobody would get a bonus. 

So he wrote to his employees asking for an idea from everyone to save a few dollars and then he could pay everyone their bonus.

He obviously got lots of ideas, but following that, he empowered people to actually put those ideas in place. In turn, they had their best quarter ever.

A great example of Servant Leadership from one of the best to do it.

Covid Leadership

Overnight you’re a remote leader. How does it work with distributed teams? If you need to be standing in front of your people and directing them all the time, that is probably not a definition of success.

It’s forcing a lot of leaders thinking ‘am I still important’? They’re having a moment of humility. The old tropes of leadership aren’t going to serve them.

Remote teams need two things to work:

  1. Freedom and autonomy. Need space to get work done. Yes you need guardrails, standards and values, but people within those need to be able to work the way that works for them.
  2. Sense of connection and belonging. Like NASA would say we are all putting a man on the moon, the role of the leader is to keep pulling people back to what the big goal is and how everyone is contributing to that.

We have been so stuck in delivery and busyness that we’ve weighed our value up in how busy we are. We are now a distributed team – what are we doing to make sure we survive when business feels different? 

I’m not hearing that many leaders saying – what will it mean when this ends? We are in the day-to-day, but when we get through this what does the future hold for us? What do you dream for your customers, clients and people when this is over?

Servant leadership the only way to get us out of this. How do you turn common sense into common practice and sadly it’s just through doing the work. There’s no silver bullet, you’ve got to want to do it. Some leaders don’t want to give up power and don’t have the capacity to learn and change.

In Summary…

Its the next level of leadership. There’s an element of tough love. It always empathises and accepts the person, but can also refuse some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough. And that’s ok.

The best leaders I have ever learned from were both servant leaders and tough leaders. They helped you push yourself because they have sky-high expectations of you.

If you don’t think you’re doing it yet, this is the next level.


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Hot Topics
  • Angie intro
  • What is servant leadership?
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  • Myths: Southwest Airlines 
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Sullivan & Stanley