Applying Servant Leadership in Organisation

Insights by Heather Hyde Jennings

Engaging tenured people in new behavior is indeed a very difficult undertaking. It is not always possible to inspire a long-time employee who is highly self-oriented or self-protective to join community and contribute more to others. But increasing their contributions to the community can be so valuable because of their learning and experience. Sometimes a tenured person can be newly engaged when they feel they are highly valued for their contribution. One secret to servant leadership is to convey in new ways that we highly value people, that we care for their well-being, and not just what they can do for us or produce for the firm.


In our practice of servant leadership we often ask people to reflect on what they truly care most about, what they value, what motivates them, what they want to be remembered for - how they see their legacy. And then we ask them to look at the times when they are most satisfied at work and how others have helped them achieve that satisfaction. In those reflections they often find reasons for wanting to "give back" for the well-being of others and the firm. They can develop a deeper sense of gratitude and purpose. We invite people to choose to share thoughts and learning about their own growth in understanding of personal purpose. Results have been positive with this approach.


I believe that when cultural distinctives are better understood and honoured that, servant leadership and increased participation in the community can happen in formal as well as less formal groups. I remember a time working with a Japanese firm that employed many ex-pats that we discussed cultural values and norms and the differences among the group's members. Greater understanding led to better listening and mutual appreciation for the strengths to be found in different approaches. We agreed to occasionally move to a middle ground or "third way" (not just yours or just mine, but our way) of behaving that would accommodate different styles.


I sense that the HR question - concern about dampening volunteerism comes from the experience of seeing that we cannot force new behaviour though performance management systems and metrics. If we approach servant leadership as another set of requirements and rules about being better people or getting better results, it will fall flat. Perhaps a strategy that starts with noticing and rewarding people who demonstrate servant leadership would work better. As SL becomes more a norm that the community clearly defines and desires for itself, then formally including its aspects in company performance metrics can be more successful. That takes some time!


I am one who loves the idea of measuring the effects of Servant Leadership (my original training is in accounting...) so I like the question about measuring success. I think many companies focus on the benefits of higher engagement (Gallup scores or other metric) from servant leadership. Servant leadership can make a clear difference in workplace experience and, therefore, customer experience and satisfaction. Measures and surveys that identify "best places to work" are very popular now for attracting good talent and look at the effect of more effective leadership styles. Retention of good employees can be measured and related to servant leadership. Improvement of individuals' performance in both collaborative partner relationships and business results can be directly affected by the Serving Leader programs we have implemented. In summary, we have seen measurable improvements in employee and customer engagement, retention, collaboration, and in accelerating innovation.

Engaging Leadership
by Bill Treasurer

Heather Hyde Jennings acts as a trusted advisor to ThirdRiver clients who seek to win at strategy execution while developing strong leaders and teams. Heather’s expertise is nurturing a successful culture of strong shared leadership. Heather’s newest book, coauthored with Ken Jennings, The Greater Goal: Connecting Purpose and Performance, gives practical advice for achieving strategic breakthroughs through focus on great purpose, shared goal achievement and goal based coaching for teams and individuals.


Heather provides an experienced perspective on organizational transformation based on a career helping companies rigorously manage performance improvement. Her approach blends the techniques of culture formation and human performance improvement into effective workplace learning experiences. Her passion is to work with teams members as they become a highly committed community, capable of positive business impact.

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