Servant leadership is now being selected by senior leaders and boards of trustees as a style of leadership over authoritarian, democratic, or lassiez-faire styles. Spears (2005) wrote:
In countless for-profit and not-for-profit organizations today we are seeing traditional, autocratic, and hierarchical modes of leadership yielding to a different way of working—one based on teamwork and community, one that seeks to involve others in decision making, one strongly based in ethical and caring behavior, and one that is attempting to enhance the personal growth of workers while improving the caring and quality of our many institutions. This emerging approach to leadership and service is called servant-leadership. (p. 1)
The idea of servant leadership seems to be paradoxical. How can one be a leader if they are a servant? But it is much more about the style of leadership than the name itself. Imagine a stereotypical authoritarian style where the employee is not put first nor the customer, but rather that the bottom-line is key. A servant may not feel comfortable in an organization that is militaristic and authoritarian in style.
Servant leaders, by definition, place the needs of their subordinates before their own needs and center their efforts on helping subordinates grow to reach their maximum potential and achieve optimal organizational and career success” (Greenleaf, 1977). A study by Blanchard (2010) found that servant leadership increases employee passion and customer devotion which leads to overall satisfaction with the organization. "Not only are people looking for deeper purpose and meaning as they meet the challenges of today's changing world, but they are also looking for principles that actually work. Servant leadership works" (Blanchard, 2010, p. 279).
Spears quoted the Indianapolis Business Journal which said, "Servant leadership has emerged as one of the dominant philosophies being discussed in the world today." Servant leadership seems to fit well in all aspects of business whether a profit or a non-profit organization. "Servant-leadership crosses all boundaries and is being applied by a wide variety of people working with for-profit businesses; not-for-profit corporations; and churches, universities, health care, and foundations" (Spears, 2005, p. 5)
Servant leadership is focused on the servant or employee. This is an advantage versus an authoritarian approach. Many major companies have adopted the servant leadership approach as part of their mission statement. "Among these are The Toro Company (Minneapolis, Minnesota), Synovus Financial Corporation (Columbus, Georgia), ServiceMaster Company (Downers Grove, Illinois), The Men’s Wearhouse (Fremont, California), Southwest Airlines (Dallas, Texas), Starbucks (Seattle, Washington), and TDIndustries (Dallas, Texas)" (Spears, 2005, p. 5).
Author: Dr. Andree Swanson
Blanchard, K. (2010). Leading at a higher level, revised and expanded edition: Blanchard on leadership and creating high performing organizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press.
Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York, NY: Paulist Press.
Spears, L. (2005). The understanding and practice of servant leadership. Regent University. Retrieved from http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/sl_proceedings/2005/spears_practice.pdf