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Servant leadership moves into boardrooms

Assisting subordinates to grow shows  strong manager benevolence towards staff. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
Assisting subordinates to grow shows strong manager benevolence towards staff. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

The concept of transformational leadership and its different components has dominated leadership research and practical training ever since James Burns in the 1970s and later Bernard Bass in the 1980s popularised the concepts with social science business studies.

Throughout the 1990s debates erupted between the organisational outcomes of transformational or transactional leaders until recently. In the 2010s until present, research shows the most effective leaders possess both transformational and transactional qualities in equal measure.

Also in the 1970s, a different researcher, Robert Greenleaf, pioneered the construct of servant leadership. However, servant leadership did not catch on with scientists but rather much of the research revolves around polemic arguments based on ancient selective examples forming philosophical opinions without much quantitative framework testing.

In the past two years, Mark Green, Richard Rodriguez, Carol Wheeler, and Barbara Baggerly-Hinojosa highlight the slow but growing analytical examination of the concepts of servant leadership.

The quantitative analyses prove that servant leadership does yield positive employee performance results.

Mark Ehrhart boils down servant leadership into eight key constructs. Both transformational and servant leadership overlap on four areas. First, both types of leadership focus on the integrity and ethical actions of the leader.

Second, a leader must hold conceptual skills and competence abilities. Third, both require subordinate empowerment and autonomy. Fourth, assisting subordinates to grow and succeed demonstrates strong manager benevolence towards staff.

Next, in the following four areas, servant leadership diverges from transformational leadership. Fifth, servant leadership requires managers to build interpersonal relationships with their subordinates. Such workplace bonding psychologically boosts employees’ perceptions of fairness in a firm.

However, in sub-Saharan Africa, different research from this author shows that African employees desire interpersonal relationships with their bosses but, uniquely in the world, still want a bit of a barrier whereby they do not desire to share deeply personal things with their supervisors.

Sixth, servant leaders should put their employees’ needs first even above their own. Such radical concepts, when followed, build immense staff loyalty to their supervisors. Seventh, servant leadership borrows from social entrepreneurship in that leaders should also create value for community stakeholders outside the firm, not just inside the organisation and equity owners.

Eighth, servant leadership represents the only mainline business construct that includes spiritual opinions. The hypothesis requires a leader to ponder the spiritual world and their preferred deity’s preference for their leadership behaviour.

Such spiritual focus can result in a mix of positive and negative results. While respect for the unseen spiritual world may create humility in some leaders, other leaders may instead misunderstand the influence of their own subconscious urges and mistake it for spiritual guidance. The latter leaders become unpredictable in the workplace.

In short, servant leadership has finally emerged from a philosophical concept taught to pastors in seminaries and moved into board rooms to hold CEOs accountable to deeper accountability for selfless leadership.

Leaders must first believe in their employees and practice receptive non-judgmental listening and only thereafter attempt the eight areas of servant leadership to boost employee loyalty, performance, and ultimately profits.

Dr Scott may be reached on: [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor

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