Today we’re going to continue our series of content that takes an in-depth look at some of the most popular styles of management out there, as well as a list of some of the pros and cons that come with them. It’s very rare that one single style of leadership will successfully empower all of your staff without some form of detriment - to yourself, a small number of staff, the executive team, whomever- and that’s why it’s important to take part in an exercise like this. We have to first realise that an organisation is made up of a lot of moving parts, and what works for some may not work for others.
I’m in a fortunate position where I’ve been able to witness this take place first-hand in my own organisation, Best Practice, as well as examine how this transpires in the context of other organisations across a multitude of industries. While the ingredients might be slightly different depending on your size, operations and whether or not you’re a B-2-B organisation or not, there’s some common threads, observations and lessons to take away from analysing how different management styles can both inspire and isolate certain types of people in organisations, so let’s have a look.
Today’s leadership style under the microscope is known as the ‘servant’ management style, or servant leadership. This is one of the more niche styles of leadership, as there’s some roots in spirituality that aren’t necessarily responded to well by a number of leaders in the 21st century- but it’s no doubt a growing trend. In this style of leadership, the leader believes that they exist to serve the organisation, its customers and the employees that make day-to-day activities a reality. These managers believe that their employees aren’t just an extra set of hands, rather, they’re the set of hands that make everything possible; they often connect on a more deep, personal level compared to the majority of leaders.
“The leadership style present in most successful small businesses is servant leadership.” Ben Landers, CEO at Blue Corona
As author Laura Handrick states, “a servant leader sees himself not as one who has power over employees, but as one who provides their needs so that they can be successful in their job. A servant leader demonstrates by their behaviour that his or her employees are their most important assets, and puts them first, knowing that if they satisfiy their needs, the customer needs will also be satisfied, and the business will thrive.” Some of the biggest positives associated with this leadership style is that employees and customers alike will feel as though their needs and requests will always be met by the leader, who has a strong sense of empathy and acts from a position of selflessness, rather than self-interest, ideally in the best interests of the organisation they’re operating. It can also act to create a culture inside your organisation that could transform and inspire ordinary employees to producing extraordinary results.
If you can create a culture where an employee’s hard day’s work is both recognised by peers and leaders, they’ll be better positioned to see the benefits in helping the organisation as a whole, and you’re also far more likely to retain great members of staff for a longer period of time. One of the downsides, however, is that some people in the organisation might ultimately take advantage of the selflessness of the leader in question; and this no doubt happens in organisations everywhere. It’s not hard to imagine how a leader endlessly throwing out generosity might end up being taken for a ride.
Handrick explains that this leadership style works best for organisation that “focus on service, such as a healthcare company, home services, or consulting where you want all employees to follow your service example when working with clients. It also works well in non-profits, where all employees are focused on a common good- such as feeding the hungry or advocating for seniors. [It] is a management style that requires you to be all in, behaving outside of work with ethics and values the same as you behave at work. If you are a naturally empathetic person, a good listener, focused on the physical and emotional wellness of your employees, this might be the best leadership style for you.”
The piece from Laura Handrick quotes Ben Landers, the CEO at Blue Corona who said that “the leadership style present in most successful small businesses is servant leadership. The only time I’ve seen servant leadership backfire is in extremely rare instances where what is expected (culturally) is an autocrat.” This sentiment was echoed by Jim Hume, owner and principal at Phire Group, who said that “I believe the single greatest trait of a leader in a small organisation is a servant mindset. Understand the needs of the team, recognise the tensions and stresses of the team, recognize the tensions and stresses of individuals, foster their growth, and protect them from the unnecessaries. Those belong to you. If you want into the office every day with the attitude of, ‘How can I make someone’s life better today?’ you will achieve tremendous things as a team. Nothing is more important than the team.”
If there’s one crucial point to end this piece with, it’s no doubt that final line from Jim: “there’s nothing more important than the team.”
While some leaders might be quick to argue a lack of pragmatism behind the servant leadership style’s ethos, it’s hard to deny the raft of benefits to the culture and results of an organisation that believes as it operates, it has an obligation to take care of its staff. More often than not with other leadership style, the needs of staff are toward the end of the list- so it’s refreshing to take a look at a style of management that believes that a great organisation is made up of great people.
We’ve got a lot more to cover on this topic, so stay tuned to my articles on our blog, and as always, thanks for your time.