The synthesis of servant and leader is an oxymoron that brings about transformative changes within organizations. Robert Greenleaf, a theorist of servant leadership, argued that instead of focusing on power, leaders should focus on serving first and while serving, growth, not only of the employees but the organization, will follow. When followers’ needs are met, they reciprocate through increased engagement, teamwork, and performance. This ability to balance people and organizations is what sets servant leaders apart from the rest.
The premise of servant leadership is built on an unconventional organizational structure where employees are at the top, followed by managers, executives, CEO, then Board of Directors. Servant leadership is not the leadership style for leaders who thrive on having the power or rely on their position to control others. Although leaders are not at the top of the pyramid, they still have the responsibility to lead, guide, and make decisions, but from the mindset and actions of a servant. Servant leaders understand that true leaders do not seek power but seek to empower. There is no power struggle. If goals are not met, the servant leader will look within to determine what they could have done better to help employees achieve those goals. Servant leadership is about prioritizing people over profit. Given this, how do servant leaders successfully balance empowerment and organizational effectiveness without the organization suffering?
Creating a culture of servant leadership makes the balancing of employee empowerment and organizational effectiveness a normal part of operations. Unlike some traditional leadership styles, servant leaders focus on employees’ growth and well-being to achieve the organization’s success. Servant leaders lead by creating the vision of the organization, providing guidance, and setting expectations. Every leader has a different way of interacting, but it is most important to communicate the vision and build commitment to achieve the desired results. A culture under this type of leadership delivers transformational results because employees are coached, empowered, and held accountable to ensure goals are met to fulfill the vision. Leaders ensure employees have the resources and skills needed to achieve success. A servant-led culture is not cultivated overnight and does not consist of procedural and policy changes. Instead, the shift to a servant-led culture is a process that takes time to develop. There must be buy-in and commitment from every level, including leaders, managers, and employees, to support servant leadership’s transformative power.
Authenticity and trust play an important role in balancing empowerment and organizational success. Servant leaders understand that building an environment of authenticity and trust is vital to cultivate and flourish in a servant-led culture. An authentic servant leader is sincere and consistent in their message and is never putting on a false front by saying one thing behind closed doors and another in the presence of others. Authenticity encourages transparency, transparency encourages trust, and trust encourages creativity where employees feel comfortable sharing ideas and taking risks without the fear of failing. When employees feel like there are no hidden agendas and leaders are true to their word, trust is built, and satisfaction increases. Anyone who considers themselves a servant leader but is not authentic may portray the façade of a servant leader but will collapse under the pressure of balancing employee empowerment and organizational effectiveness. Truly authentic and trustworthy servant leaders deliver results.
Empowering employees brings about transformative changes within the workplace, but when mentoring is added to the mix, the dynamics change. Mentoring relationships are incredibly powerful. Servant leaders cultivate relationships by discovering and developing employees’ skills, which puts employees in a position to grow in different areas of the organization. When leaders take the initiative to create growth and development opportunities consistently, employees have a sense of belonging, increasing engagement, performance, and organizational success. Most leaders feel a sense of success, not when they have followers, but when they have produced other servant leaders who will serve and develop others.
Being proactive instead of reactive helps servant-leaders balance empowerment and organizational effectiveness. Servant leaders are responsible for making sure the phrase “we’ve always done it like that” is not used within the workplace. Old habits and behaviors that interfered with success in the past must go. Leadership requires recognizing how behaviors impact those we lead, and culture is how employees respond to those behaviors. As the culture shifts towards a servant-led culture, employees’ behaviors, habits, and responses will begin to change. Change can be difficult, but leaders who help employees get out of their comfort zone to unlearn old habits will embrace habits that will lead to transformative change.
Balancing empowerment while handling the realities of the day-to-day operations, meeting deadlines, and being profitable may be challenging and take time, but not impossible if leading from the heart. Servant leadership is not a technique but a journey that cannot be imitated without true transformation. Greenleaf posited, “it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” Servant leaders choose to lead through service consistently, and because of their choice to prioritize people over profits, engagement, profitability, and reputation increase.