I still remember reading Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time by Howard Schultz and Dori Jones Young when it was first released.
I was very impressed by their commitment to a set of values that focused not merely on the performance of the organization as the end game, but on how it valued its staff. Schultz wanted staff to own more than its sales targets. He wanted them to be responsible for its culture, and to achieve this he wanted them to make the company their own—literally!
In business, leadership revolves around three primary factors: the leader, the organization, and the follower.
Not surprisingly, each of them need to be held in careful tension due to the conflicts that emerge when different values and expectations meet head-on.
While these three factors may appear to simplify the complexity of leadership, this distinction highlights the reality that leaders must contend with themselves, almost as much as they do with the needs of the organization and the followers who are a vital part of it.
Traditional models of leadership tend to focus on the leader in a hierarchical, inverted pyramid structure—where power and control is considered to be inseparable to the practice of leadership.
The Servant-Leadership model is distinct from other models.
At its heart, there is a desire to lead others by serving the needs, aspirations and interests of their followers, rather than serve their own needs and agenda through the people they lead. According to Sendjaya and Cooper, the internal orientation of the leader is pivotal to its function.
“Contrary to the natural inclination of leaders to get ahead, servant leaders exhibit a readiness to renounce the superior status attached to leadership and embrace greatness by way of servanthood.”
This does not mean that they neglect or abdicate their responsibilities as leaders. Rather, they recognize the importance of people being fulfilled by the use of their gifts and experience, and empowered in their respective roles to meet the objectives of the organization.
Organizational growth and efficiency become a long-term byproduct of the ‘followers’ growth, rather than an end in itself.
This leadership approach does not come naturally for many. As Greenleaf, long regarded as the founder of the servant-leadership model, states, this is largely due to the problem “that serve and lead are overused words with negative connotations.” In practice, it is dangerous to divorce the two words or try and weight them as two distinct constructs.
Trompennars and Voerman suggest that, “The secret of the servant-leader lies in the hyphen between ‘servant’ and ‘leader’. The hyphen represents the essence.”
While Greenleaf argues that the leader needs more than inspiration to be an effective leader, the ‘follower’ also needs more than an inspirational leader to find motivation that is sustainable.
What’s the bottom-line?
While leaders may bring vision, initiate direction, bring ideas to the table, and effectively manage resources, it is their capacity and ability to utilize the ideas and resources of their ‘followers’ that truly creates a culture of long lasting performance.
This cannot occur unless leaders choose to use their authority to initiate this process, and in doing so subordinate their egos and power inherent within the position they hold. Questions to reflect on:
- Do I actively seek input from others and acknowledge them for the success of their ideas when implemented?
- Have I created a culture of respect rather than one of intimidation and fear, making me unapproachable?
- Has my role as a leader become more about me than about the performance of the organization?
 Howard Schultz and Dori Jones Young, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup At A Time (New York: Hyperion, 1997).
 Sen Sendaya and Brian Cooper, “Servant Leadership Behaviour Scale: A hierarchical model and test of construct validity,” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology (October 2010): 2.
 Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness (New York: Paulist Press, 2002), 20.
 Fons Trompennars and Ed Voerman, Servant Leadership Across Cultures: Harnessing the Strength of the World’s Most Powerful Management Philosophy (Oxford: Infinite Ideas Limited, 2010), xii.