Leadership - 14 October 2014
There’s just one style of leadership that half of the ‘best companies to work for’ have implemented as a fundamental part of their organisation. Can you guess which style that is?
It’s the same one that, in a new study published in the Journal of Business Ethics, has been shown to increase employee engagement. The research also found it’s a style of leadership that motivates employees to provide better customer service, to more effectively solve problems, and to be more committed to the organisation.
That style is … servant leadership.
Servant leadership is when leaders abandon their own self-interest and instead prioritise the needs of their employees. They do this by building authentic trust-based relationships. They genuinely care about the development and engagement of each employee, and are even willing to sacrifice their own preferences for the sake of the team.
When the study’s participants were asked to state the qualities they most admired in a servant leader, the following came out on top.
Lead by example: It’s a term mentioned endlessly in leadership circles but it’s very rarely followed. Essentially it just means this: if your employees acted in the same way you did, would that be all right? If the answer is no, this attribute should be your primary focus.
Kindness: This is when you show concern for others. Servant leaders don’t wait for the annual RUOK day to ask employees if they’re okay. They’re regularly checking in and looking out for cues that something’s up.
Open-mindedness: This isn’t just about being receptive to new ideas. It’s also about enthusiastically seeking them out and considering them on their merits. Then, if an idea is workable, it’s implemented. If it’s not, feedback is provided.
Compassion: This occurs when you tap in to the emotion an employee is feeling. Emotions are at the core of servant leadership and they’re also a vital aspect of engagement, which is why it’s not surprising the two concepts are positively related. Compassion starts with empathy.
Willing to lead: You can easily spot reluctant leaders. They’re the ones who avoid contact with employees, think engagement is fluffy and unnecessary, and ignore performance issues until it’s too late. Servant leaders are the total opposite.
In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart."
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