Why servant leadership is an achievable philosophy for all of us

By Matt Weston, UK Managing Director


The world of work has changed drastically in the last few years. Employee expectations have evolved, the pace of work has picked up and automation is changing processes – inside and out.

This evolution to the world of work requires corresponding changes in leadership style, favouring a more human-centric approach. Recent research has shown that the greater the investment in employees, the greater the output of the company. Although the philosophy of ‘servant leadership’ isn’t new, it’s rapidly gaining mainstream relevance.

In its most basic form, servant leadership is the reversal of a standard leadership-employee relationship. It favours a people-centric approach rather than a process-centric approach. The main goal becomes ensuring growth, productivity and workplace satisfaction of the worker with the understanding that this will have a positive impact on their relationships with clients/customers, the performance of the organisation and the organisation as a whole.

The team-first approach is more important now than ever

New and projected trends in the world of work suggest that servant leadership could be the key to future business success. The digital landscape changing rapidly, so business success depends on speed and agility. If team members don’t feel supported by management or colleagues, output is unlikely to reach the desired levels and company culture begins to degrade.

The digital age has facilitated an inter-connectedness between organisations, employees, leaders and their customers. The actions of one can easily spread to affect many. By making continual investments in your people, a ripple effect is caused, and positive attitudes are spread beyond your actions as a leader.

Greater emphasis is now placed on the wellbeing of employees, based on an understanding that a happy, well-balanced approach to work has the potential to increase tenure, output and workplace satisfaction. Employee burnout is common is almost one third of UK companies as workloads spiral out of control and employees struggle to ‘switch off’ from work. The reaction has been a renewed focus on employee wellbeing incentives and benefits.

Employee wellbeing is also contributing to the rise in flexible working practices. Although it’s beneficial for productivity, work-life balance and employee satisfaction, it requires businesses to forge tighter relationships between employees and to put more emphasis on performance-based metrics.

The practicalities of servant leadership

When you consider that the core ethos of the servant leadership style is the wellbeing and the development of people, it becomes easier to find a starting point in your existing framework.

Instead of monthly progress meetings, an ongoing performance management framework is more suitable. Weekly one-to-one meetings can become a forum to discuss career progression, lessons learnt from mistakes or shortcoming, and for the exchange of valuable feedback. Employees always work their best when they feel as though they’re making valuable contributions, so regular check-ins are instrumental for keeping this on track.

Leaders may also look to specialist software for people-centric insights. This year, leading research and advisory firm founder, Josh Bersin, predicted that employee feedback software would come into workplace prevalence. Employers now have various options for regularly rolling out quick-fire employee pulse surveys to assess workplace culture and to increase transparency.

Organisation leaders should also be looking to celebrate top performers with incentives which show them that their contributions are valued. It’s been shown that non-financial benefits are the most valuable to today’s workforce, so team lunches, small perks or additional holiday days are all welcome rewards.

Would you like to discuss the practicalities of a servant leadership style or workplace incentives? Get in touch with the experts at Robert Half today.