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10 Convincing Reasons Executives Must Consider Servant Leadership

By Marcel Schwantes 2 years ago1 Comment
Home  /  Leadership  /  10 Convincing Reasons Executives Must Consider Servant Leadership

Since our launch a little over a year ago, we’ve had to educate many people about our business model — developing servant leaders and servant-led work cultures. So many people, we have found, have already formed their opinions on the words “servant leadership” and will not buy-in no matter the evidence supporting it. There is much misunderstanding and confusion about what a ‘servant leader’ actually is and does. 

Several images comes to mind that are misconceptions of servant leadership. Does this one pop up for you?

That perhaps, servant leaders are doormats? That they’re push overs for employees to take advantage of them?

How about this one?

This implies that servant leaders are “nice” bosses that spend all day walking the halls with a fixed smile, taking orders from employees who will eventually expect it and feel entitled to it.

What about this one?

Meaning, that they are subservient — slaves to their environment — hence, submissive, passive, docile and unassertive.

Or perhaps this one.

It’s the false perception that servant leaders are weak leaders (or soft) because they want to serve. Therefore, they can’t handle tough situations or work bullies, or deal with pressure or conflict.

How about this one?

It implies that servant leadership is a religious concept, and therefore, it has no place in the corporate setting. While the principles of servant leadership are certainly taught in major world religions (see Luke 22:26), the term itself was adopted as a secular term for the corporate setting in 1970 through the writings of Robert K. Greenleaf.

And so our wise Jedi Master Yoda has it right. There are many things that we must unlearn first, especially in our view of leadership. Our own experiences (good and bad), education, upbringing, and our view of the world, really feeds into how we perceive servant leadership. Sometimes we see through blurry lenses.

While this post is not about what servant leadership is by definition (a Google search will land you in all the right places to begin your immersion), I will instead talk about why you — the decision maker residing in the C-suite — should invest in developing your leadership teams or shaping your culture with this approach, based on empirical evidence. This answers the question in the subject line…

10 Convincing Reasons Executives Must Consider Servant Leadership

Reason #1: Organizational effectiveness is high

Dr. Robert Liden, Professor of Management at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), has conducted many studies on the topic that links servant leadership to building strong teams and collaboration. Here’s Dr. Liden discussing servant leadership’s impact on job performance.

Reason #2: Servant-leadership is positively related to team confidence in its ability to perform well

Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (2011), Jia Hu & Robert Liden studied 304 employees representing 71 teams in 5 banks.  They concluded that servant leaders facilitate team confidence, affirming the strengths and potential of the team and providing development support.  The interesting thing here? While servant leaders are great at setting clear goals that leads to high team performance, the teams that did not have a servant leader had lower performance the clearer their goals!

Reason #3: Servant leadership leads to more helping and creative employees

Employees of servant-leaders are more helping and creative than those working with leaders who scored lower on servant leadership. Source: Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, Chonko, & Roberts, Journal of Applied Psychology, 2008

Reason #4: Increased employee engagement and patient satisfaction in a healthcare setting

In 2008, Cleveland Clinic significantly increased employee engagement and overall patient satisfaction by “hardwiring” Servant Leadership into the culture. Results were measured by Gallup Q¹² survey, and patient satisfaction by the federal HCAHPS survey. Source:  Bryant & Brown, “Servant Leadership: Theory & Practice ” Volume 2, Issue 1, 2015

Reason #5: Greater job satisfaction

In a study at a five-hospital system with 17 departments, 253 nurses who perceived that their nurse managers had a higher servant leadership orientation demonstrated significantly greater job satisfaction. Source: Jenkins & Stewart, “The importance of a servant leader orientation,” Health Care Management Review, 2010

Reason #6: The Jason’s Deli Study

University of Illinois at Chicago recently conducted a Servant Leadership study of 961 employees at 71 Jason’s Deli restaurants in 10 metropolitan areas in the US. The research reveals when bosses act as servants to their employees, it’s good for business. Measureable increases in key business metrics like job performance (6%), customer service (8%) and employee retention (50%) were observed. Research co-author Sandy Wayne, Ph.D., explains the benefits of Servant Leadership as much more than a nice thing to do for your employees; it’s good for the bottom line.

Reason #7: Because These Successful Global Giants Are Servant-Led

Research has identified these high-performance organizations as being servant-led:

  • Chick-fil-A
  • Home Depot
  • U.S. Marine Corps
  • UPS
  • Ritz Carlton
  • Room & Board
  • Whole Foods
  • Starbucks
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Levy Restaurants
  • San Antonio Spurs
  • TSYS

Source: Washington Post, 2013.

Reason #8: The Incredible Turnaround of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen

Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, a global restaurant chain, has an incredible story documented in their CEO’s latest book, Dare to Serve, where Cheryl Bachelder talks about how they went from being a company on the brink of disaster to one experiencing tremendous growth by every measure including profitability, expansion and customer satisfaction, all because the leaders decided to flip a switch, and become intentional servant-leaders.

Here’s Bachelder at the 2013 Servant Leadership Institute Winter Conference Panel. She explains, rather humorously, how financial performance stems from a servant leadership culture.

Reason #9: Datron World Communication

In 2004, Art Barter, Owner & Cultural Architect of Datron World Communications, Inc., purchased the company for $10 million and turned it into a $200 million company in just five years by inverting it from a traditional model of leadership to a servant leadership model.  In this 2014 clip (fast forwarded to 4:00), Ben Lichtenwalner of Modern Servant Leader interviews Barter about Datron’s incredible transformation. You can also find Datron’s story of success in the book, The Art of Servant Leadership.

Reason #10: Servant-led companies outperformed Good to Great companies!

Researchers compared the companies made famous by Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, with companies that have been applying servant leadership principles. The research was based on the metrics Collins used to evaluate the financial performance of his eleven publicly traded “good to great” companies. They are: Fannie Mae, Circuit City, Nucor, Kroger, Walgreens, Wells Fargo, Altria Group, Gillette, Pitney Bowes, Kimberly Clark, Abbott Laboratories. Those companies were compared with eleven publicly-traded companies that are frequently cited in the literature as being servant-led:

  • Toro Company
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Starbucks
  • Men’s Wearhouse
  • Synovus Financial
  • Herman Miller
  • ServiceMasters
  • Marriott International
  • FedEx
  • Medtronic

The comparison focused on the ten-year period ending in 2005. Researchers found that during those years, stocks from the five hundred largest public companies (i.e., Standard & Poors 500) averaged a 10.8 percent pre-tax portfolio return. The eleven companies studies by Collins averaged a 17.5 percent return. However, the servant-led companies’ returns averaged 24.2 percent! This concluded that servant-led companies are even better than great!

Source: You can find this study published in James Sipe and Don Frick’s book, Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing the Wisdom of Leading by Serving (Paulist Press, 2009)

I end with this quote by Angela Ahrendts, Senior Vice President, Retail and Online Stores at Apple.

Discussion: Please leave a comment below and share how you take care of your employees by serving them first? How has that translated to success and financial performance?


If you’d like to dig deeper than this post and get real-world practical advice and best practices, subscribe below and receive a download link to a FREE 45-minute teleseminar….

The Top 5 Things Every Leader MUST DO to Keep Employees Happy and Motivated

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 Marcel Schwantes

  (21 articles)

Marcel Schwantes is Principal and Co-Founder of Leadership from the Core, a global leadership training and executive coaching boutique with one core purpose: growing leaders and transforming teams and organizations through the best leadership philosophy in the world -- Servant Leadership.

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