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Servant leadership vis a vis organisational performance

Robert Mandeya

A LOT has been said and written about servant leadership and analogies have been drawn on the practicality of servant leadership.However, little have been explored on the practicality of servant leadership in the corporate world and how it affects organisational performance.

The concept of servant leadership has gained momentum in organisations and academic discussions, with sufficient evidence to show that organisations with servant leaders have more empowered and higher-performing employees, who are satisfied and committed. The business environment is ever changing and so, too, is leadership behaviour.

I will content here that, in light of the current demand for people-centred and more ethical leadership, servant leadership may well be what organisations need.

Unpacking servant leadership

Before delving into the intricacies of servant leadership and its impact on organisational performance, it is important to locate the concept and demystify some misconceptions. Put simply, I would say servant leadership is the ability to promote increased collaboration and creativity among employees, which helps organisations gain and maintain competitive advantage. For many top-performing organisations, servant leadership has been identified to be at the core of organisational values. It is therefore important to assess outcomes of servant leadership so as to appreciate how this form of leadership leads to more productive employees and, ultimately, more profitable organisations. Empirical evidence from Fortune 500 magazine on America’s best-performing companies reveals that servant leadership positively and significantly influences financial performance, customer performance, internal process performance, and learning and innovation performance, based on the Balanced Scorecard.

Leader-follower relations

Global economic recession, as well as political and digital upheavals have stimulated the search and need for new models of ethical leadership styles. Just as the world is continually evolving so should be leadership styles. Leader-follower relations are becoming the focus of most discussion in the corporate world today. It is no illusion that if one needs to get maximum output from employees then dynamism, agility and collaborative leadership is the key. The current model of engaging, ethical, moral and relational leadership is the new dimension for measuring effective leadership as opposed to the conventional “input” and “performance output” approach currently being used by most organisations.

Servant versus transformational leadership

The two concepts have often been used interchangeably but are exclusive in some way. It will be very interesting to find out which of the two has more impact than the other. I would not want to split hairs here, suffice to say the concept of servant leadership is gaining popularity in the contemporary business leadership environment. These two concepts have a few similarities and some major differences which need to be interrogated across organisational performance. I would say, of the various leadership concepts in the milieu, I have found out that servant leadership is the only one so far which includes various behavioural and emotional aspects in a very useful way. It is a rare class of leaders who take leadership as an opportunity to provide valuable service to both the employees and the customers. The same is also true in the political sense when you look at national leadership. The difference between servant and transformational leadership is the focus of the leader. While both of these leadership styles focus on the followers, servant leadership pays more attention on service to the followers, transformational leadership focusses on engaging followers towards goal attainment. Both of them, however, involve followers in learning and development.

Strategic imperative of servant leadership

By modeling leadership style around servant leadership, strategic-level managers can create an organisational culture in which servant leaders develop among lower-level managers. Servant leadership can provide a successful alternative to other leadership styles such as autocratic, performance-maintenance, transactional, or transformational.

Characteristics of servant leadership

The servant-leader characteristics include wisdom, organisational stewardship, and altruistic calling. Some qualities within the wisdom paradigm focus on the leader’s knowledge of the industry and the organisation. Certainly, in order for an individual to be considered an effective or competent leader, he or she must be trusted to be knowledgeable and competent about the business―this aspect is the most highly rated by the employees. The concept of integrity, then, has value to followers―they want a leader who cares about them as well as the organisation. This factor includes moral and ethical behaviour; therefore, a leader should be someone who can be trusted to do the “right thing” by people and the organisation.

Altruistic calling includes a tenet that is central to servant leadership―the leader puts the needs of followers ahead of his or her needs. This factor also includes consideration of the organisation making a positive difference in society, echoing the concept in organisational stewardship that success should not be achieved at the cost of ethics and moral standing in the community or industry. These three factors incorporate behavioural aspects that are intertwined with the ideals of the followers for a corporate model that values knowledge, social responsibility, and the development of individuals.
Mandeya is an executive leadership coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Institute of Leadership, Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/www.lird.co.zw.

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