Companies using servant leadership?

It is surprising that a construction company would have a servant leadership centre, but Balfour Beatty CEO Eric Stenman firmly believes that this is the way business should be done. Stenman has always focused on the "personal and professional success of all his employees". They may be the bane of every independent coffee shop in the world, but their service to employees is legendary. In addition to offering many unusual benefits, Starbucks has recently indicated that it will begin assisting its employees with free college tuition.

CEO Howard Schultz believes that a great company can only be built by linking shareholder value with employee value. Starbucks describes its organisational culture as "a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity". In addition, it always puts its employees first and encourages everyone to grow into leadership roles within the company. At Starbucks, employees are encouraged to build strong relationships with each other and to collaborate and communicate openly.

And employees are empowered to ask questions and address their superiors. Ultimately, Starbucks upholds the idea that "the way you treat your people is the way they will treat your customers". Its leadership team follows the principle that people who are liked, respected and coached perform better. And its figures demonstrate the effectiveness of its servant leadership culture.

It was named by Fortune as the number one "Best Places to Work in America" in 1999 and remains a reputable organisation today, 130 years after its founding, 2.FedEx was founded in 1971 by Fred Smith, who still leads the company as CEO. He believes that "when you put people first, they will provide the best possible service, and the profits will follow". What emerged from this thinking is a distinctive company culture. The "People - Service - Profit" philosophy has helped the company grow rapidly and remain competitive.

The economic challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the true intent and values of many companies. Some companies put their people at risk to save numbers, while other companies put their numbers at risk to save people. The former responded with large-scale layoffs or wage cuts, while the latter responded by creating more jobs for people and finding innovative solutions to serve people and society during the pandemic. Some companies were also agile enough to use their resources and skill sets to create different products and services to meet the urgent need for medical equipment, protective clothing and other essential services during the pandemic.

Over the past three decades, servant leadership has evolved from a noble and ethical leadership ideology, caught up in religious worldviews, to the very principles of how the most successful companies on the planet operate and profit. Fishbowl is an employee-owned company committed to the pursuit of excellence for its employees. Williams also represents servant leadership through humanitarian initiatives through CAM (Courage Above Mountains Foundation), named after Williams' son Cameron. Both Chick-fil-A and Southwest Airlines embrace and practice servant leadership.

Both companies have extraordinarily loyal customers, highly committed employees and high profitability. However, as noted, both companies were founded on the principles of servant leadership. It is much more difficult to change a culture of power leadership to one of servant leadership. Without massive commitment from executives and senior management, it is unlikely to succeed.

As with all servant leaders in senior roles, leadership is a constantly evolving journey for Metayer. The seventh step is to adopt servant leadership practices in the organisation and train leaders accordingly. Servant leadership is a potentially powerful leadership model for all types of organisations and companies. WD-40 has successfully created a culture of servant leadership based on the idea of the team as a tribe.

Such companies create value for multiple stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, society and the environment) and operate according to the values of love and purpose. It is easy to be a little cynical about examples of servant leadership in business (partly because the phrase itself evokes such deep expectations). In recent years, servant leadership has evolved from an ethical and noble leadership ideology based on religious views to a core principle that most for-profit companies rely on to make profits and operate. Its focus on living these values is one of the reasons why TDIndustries has made Fortune magazine's prestigious Fortune 100 list for 20 consecutive years.

Starbucks may not be an obvious choice of servant leadership organisation, but its culture of inclusion and social responsibility is deeply rooted in servant leadership. As a true servant leader, Hadeed now spends most of his time helping other organisations around the world make a lasting and meaningful impact on people by creating environments in which they can thrive. Self-serving companies operate with values of pride, fear and greed and aim to beat the competition and dominate the market. His sustainable vision of what great leadership looks like is based on Robert Greenleaf's idea of servant leadership, now referred to by others as the Zingerman model.

Jason Klingler
Jason Klingler

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