The concept of “servant leadership” may be new to you, but it is a concept (or perhaps, a philosophy) that has been around for centuries. Most would say that Robert K. Greenleaf is the founder of the modern day Servant Leadership movement. He is said to have discovered the concept after reading Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East, in the late 1950s.
In his book, The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf explains: “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
A rocky road.
Studying servant leadership occurred rather organically for me. After a series personal challenges in my 20s — a life-threatening car accident, three layoffs, a miscarriage and a divorce — I decided to take control of my destiny and launch my own business. I was tired of following someone else’s playbook.
Through the launch of my business I learned that teaching and supporting others is what truly satisfied me. Those early life setbacks paved the way for my professional reinvention and through that I sought resources that would support my new path.
As part of this new journey I joined a year-long leadership training program, based on a recommendation from a colleague. When I found out another friend was also joining the program, I jumped in. I love learning, and I thought it would be a good way for me to find peer support for my venture.
Prior to 2003 I never heard of the concept of servant leadership, but it immediately resonated with me. Many attribute the roots of this philosophy to Jesus or Gandhi, two figures I admire. What Robert Greenleaf did was apply some of the core principles of servant leadership to business. He brought it into corporations and taught it to management teams.
Greenleaf says, “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
For some, hearing the term servant leadership may bring to mind a subservient and unassertive leader. In my experience, nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, I have found that leading through service has empowered entrepreneurs within the Hera Hub community to perform at a very high level. I am energized by these female entrepreneurs. I want each of them to feel and to know that they are also leaders. They inspire me to work harder to ensure that their businesses are more profitable, that they feel fulfilled in their profession, and that they have a sense of having given back to society with their career success.
The way up.
Servant leadership has been described as a powerhouse leadership style that will transform your culture and impact your bottom line. The lens of service changes your leadership style for the better, but it also increases your financial success and improves the performance of your business.
Dr. Robert Liden, a professor of management at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says the culture of helping others within servant leadership is “related to critical measures of organizational effectiveness, like the return on investments, profits, customer satisfaction, satisfaction of the employees in general, and as well as evidence it lowers turnover rates.”
Some of the largest companies in the world enjoy financial success and high employee retention because they cultivate a culture of service. In the article, “Servant Leadership: A Path to High Performance,” the Washington Post studied companies like Starbucks, Home Depot, UPS, Southwest Airlines, Ritz Carlton and Whole Foods, and found that they have leaders who are “people-centric, who valued service to others and believed they had a duty of stewardship. Nearly all were humble and passionate operators who were deeply involved in the details of the business.” It is this servant culture led by a servant leader that allows these companies to thrive.
If you haven’t had an opportunity to study servant leadership and see how it might support your entrepreneurial path, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership, by James C. Hunter. It certainly has made a big difference in my life, and I hope it will make a difference in yours.
By Felena Hanson| Entrepreneur