“Income and wealth may impress your friends and increase your vocabulary, but having a servant attitude and compassion for others will cause people to take notice and give purpose to your life” (Germany Kent)

The company was ailing. It wasn’t that their chicken was bad or tasteless – indeed, their range of products was good. Just two weeks after the launch of the sandwich, products of Chicken on the Run were sold out for some time because of how popular it was. Just months later, however, the founder of the chain, Al Copeland, changed the restaurant to Popeyes because the restaurant was not performing very well. In 2007, the board elected Cheryl Bachelder as chief executive officer, a post she held until the chain’s purchase in March 2017. At the time she was hired, Popeyes had shuffled through four CEOs in the previous seven years, and relationships with franchisees had become strained. Bachelder led Popeyes, which she rebranded as Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, through ten straight years of growth, with top line restaurant sales rising by 45 percent and restaurant operating profit more than doubled. Popeyes’ stock rose in value from $15 to $79 per share, alongside consistent increases in same-store restaurant sales, during her tenure. Bachelder authored a book, Dare to Serve: How To Drive Superior Results While Serving Others, about servant leadership, the management philosophy she claimed to follow during her years in business. The pillars to her approach included moving the spotlight away from leadership and on to helping employees more widely achieve superior performance, as well as setting clear, purposeful, transparent goals and values that elucidated for everyone the trajectory envisaged by the company management.

Leaders have the opportunity to serve. The Indeed Editorial Team notes: “Servant leadership is a management style in which you focus on your team’s growth and well-being to put their needs first. The theory is that instead of employees serving the leader, the leader serves the employees. This type of manager believes that when their team members feel personally and professionally fulfilled, they produce high-quality work more efficiently and productively. Employee satisfaction and collaboration are important concepts in servant leadership”.

Servant leadership is important in business because it creates a work environment in which employees at all levels of the organisation feel respected, appreciated, and valued. Businesses that follow a servant leadership philosophy tend to have stronger work cultures with high employee morale and engagement.

Although the principle of servant leadership originated in biblical literature a couple of millennia ago, Robert K. Greenleaf popularised the concept of “servant leadership” in 1970 in an essay called: “The Servant as Leader”. Greenleaf offers a few characteristics that exemplify servant leaders in his essay:

  1. Servant leaders respond to problems by listening to understand. Servant leaders are excellent active listeners. In stark contrast to “listening to respond,” “listening to understand” requires the listener to put all his energy toward absorbing what the speaker is saying, rather than formulating a response while she is still talking.
  2. Servant leaders approach people with acceptance and empathy. Servant leaders unconditionally accept their followers and seek to empathise with them. “The servant always accepts and empathises, never rejects,” Greenleaf writes, however, Greenleaf is careful to point out that this doesn’t mean the leader should unconditionally accept subpar work, but rather the whole person—flaws and all.
  3. Servant leaders take time for themselves. In essence, servant leaders know that when their energy is depleted, they won’t be at their best for the people around them. Greenleaf calls this “pacing oneself for appropriate withdrawal.” Servant leaders constantly ask themselves what they need to do in order to serve best.
  4. Servant leaders are excellent forecasters and vision communicators. Servant leaders are adept at making predictions and setting goals to achieve outcomes. Most leaders have the gift of foresight, but servant leaders are especially skilled at leading people into the future from alongside or behind them. “The best leaders are clear,” wrote Greenleaf. “They continually light the way, and in the process, let each person know that what they do makes a difference.”
  5. Servant leaders are perceptive and aware. Servant leaders “see things as they are.” Greenleaf writes that those who “move with narrow perception miss opportunities for leadership.” Perceptiveness requires being fully present in the current moment, rather than obsessing over the past or things to come.

Leaders have the opportunity to serve. Rebecca Herman, Graduate Professor of Leadership at Purdue University Global and an organisational culture expert, notes: “Traditional leadership focuses on such things as strategy, goals, financial performance, and customer satisfaction. Those things aren’t bad, of course. Those are things we expect leaders to do. We want our CEO to focus on things that are going to bring us profit. But servant leaders go further. They focus on providing their employees with development opportunities. Employees today want to feel they have a job where they can succeed. They want an opportunity to be coached and mentored by someone. And since servant leaders put people first, they get to know them on a different level. They help them to develop, they give them opportunities because they empower them versus micromanage them.”

Free To Grow offers the workshop, Engaging Leadership, to assist managers with the skills and tools to serve and lead their people well. For more information, contact me on jonathan@ftgsa.co.za

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