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Servant leadership – is it for you?

Roughly one third of Fortune magazine’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For say that they intentionally practice servant leadership – doing everything you can to improve the lives of those around you.

This is the only sensible option for leaders seeking to maximise their firm’s potential, according to Matt Tenney, author of Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Board Room (Wiley 2014).

Servant leaders are curious, determined, eager to broaden their knowledge and open to learning opportunities. Those who practice it create cultures that attract talented people, keep them engaged, and promote and nurture innovation. Acts of servant leadership strengthen the brand and frequently result in positive word-of-mouth.

It’s easier to bring people behind a purpose when you have explained why it matters and they know that you are serving them.

Each interaction with your people generates a positive, negative or neutral effect. Weigh the decisions you make according to how they affect your ability to serve. To create an empowered workforce, set clear expectations, talk less and listen more – ideally speak for no more than 10% of the time – mainly to ask questions.

Treat people nicely as this need not have a financial cost. Encourage your people to grow and welcome their ideas. Set aside your ego and empower them.

Adam Grant describes research in his recent book, Give and Take, that suggests that servant leaders are not only more highly regarded than others by their employees and not only feel better about themselves at the end of the day but are more productive as well. His thesis is that servant leaders are the beneficiaries of important contacts, information, and insights that make them more effective and productive in what they do even though they spend a great deal of their time sharing what they learn and helping others through such things as career counselling, suggesting contacts, and recommending new ways of doing things.

Servant leadership is only one approach to leading, and it isn’t for everyone. But if servant leadership is as effective as portrayed in recent research, why isn’t it more prevalent? What do you think?

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