It may not be the hottest topic in business, but Servant Leadership is generating benefits for many companies.
Robert Greenleaf, an HR professional with AT&T, brought the concept into the business mainstream when he published “The Servant as Leader.” Greenleaf observed that the most effective leaders within AT&T and elsewhere were those who focused on serving, developing and empowering other people.
J.W. Marriott, Sr., founder of Maryland-based Marriott International, insisted that servant leadership gave Marriott a vital competitive advantage: “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your customers.” Marriott Sr. created a culture based on teamwork, employee training, internal promotions and “a caring workplace.” He even held regular sessions in hotel lobbies where he met with employees one-on-one and talked them through personal problems.
George Bernstein, President and CEO of Nobel Learning Communities in West Chester, PA, exercises a similar approach to business: “We have always had the philosophy that if you take care of the students, the parents and the teachers, you don’t have to worry about the stockholders … because they will get great returns.”
Bernstein structured the company to provide robust support, professional development and autonomy to teachers and principals. Nobel’s headquarters focuses on lightening teachers’ and principals’ workload by centralizing administrative operations, marketing, recruiting, internal communications, and other tasks.
Nobel conducts regular training and communications with teaching staff to update them on company goals and conditions, learn more about their challenges and aspirations, and lay plans to improve resources and services at Nobel schools. The company also grants principals and teachers autonomy to conduct their jobs in the best ways they can.
Servant leaders say their approach yields concrete business benefits. For example, while employee turnover in American preschools averages 55-60 percent a year, turnover at Nobel Learning Communities’ preschools is just 30 percent.
At MolsonCoors, servant leadership efforts generated improvements in workplace safety. Since 2008, time lost to workplace injuries has dropped 17 percent and the cost of workers compensation claims has fallen 23 percent.
Chances are you already are practicing some servant leadership techniques in your company. Expanding on those practices – including active listening, employee empowerment and strengthening support structures – could improve employee morale, productivity, customer satisfaction and your bottom line.
Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, September 2015