Creating Great Places to Work: Seven Servant-Leader Secrets

Can Servant Leadership help your company become a great place to work? Yes!

What if your company is already a great place to work, can Servant Leadership help it become even better? Again, my answer is a resolute yes!

What if your company is already a great place to work, can Servant Leadership help it become even better? Again, my answer is a resolute yes!

Servant Leadership is how many of the best leaders lead when they are leading at their best. This is true, whether they are knowingly practicing Servant Leadership or not.

Wait! Are you suggesting people can be servant-leaders and not know it? Actually, I am. I realize that may sound ridiculous to you. Please let me explain.

Servant Leadership Fits Us Like A Glove

For the past several years, it’s been a personal privilege to formally introduce many leaders and organizations to Servant Leadership. Often, in the early stages of an encounter, I’ll ask about the level of familiarity with Servant Leadership. It’s not uncommon for more than half of the audience to acknowledge they have “never heard of Servant Leadership.” Usually, a few have “some level of familiarity” with Servant Leadership and it’s a rare privilege to work with audiences that have a “high level of familiarity”.

Yet, it is equally common, for people to begin smiling and energetically nodding their heads yes as they discover the key concepts of Servant Leadership. What they soon discover is,  “these concepts fit us like a glove.” That was the exact phrase one participant used during my first formal presentation on Servant Leadership. I still love that response.

Did Servant Leadership exist before Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term in his 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader? Of course, it did.

It’s like gravity.

Gravity existed long before Isaac Newton discovered it in the late 1600s. Yet, consider all of the advancements made in discovering gravity and learning its dynamics and how to harness it for flight and space exploration. In the same way, once leaders become aware of Servant Leadership and how it “operates”, they experience greater benefits as they begin consciously and consistently practicing Servant Leadership rather than only doing it accidentally or sporadically.

A Link Between Servant Leadership and Great Workplaces

There’s another reason for my bold claim. It comes from 18 years of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For. Most likely, you have some familiarity with this list. You may even work for one of the great companies on the list. It is fascinating that some of the companies that top the list today did not exist when Fortune began publishing the list. For example, Google, the company that occupies the spot at the top of the list was formed in September 1998 and Fortune published its first list of 100 Best Companies to Work For in January of that same year.

I find it equally fascinating that there is an elite group of just 13 companies, affectionately known as the Fortune All-Stars, that have made it to the list every year since its inception. What’s even more significant is that more than half of those all-star companies embrace Servant Leadership as their leadership philosophy. That’s strong evidence of a connection between Servant Leadership and being a great place to work.

A few days ago, I had the privilege of leading a session on Servant Leadership for the managers of one of Norway’s Great Places to Work, Sopra Steria.  We gathered just one day before the announcement that Sopra Steria was named a Great Place to Work® for the ninth time in the last ten years.

As Jim Collins reminded us in Good To Great, greatness is neither a function of luck or circumstance. “Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.” It’s a continual quest and Sopra Steria assembled their leaders to equip and encourage their continued development as leaders.

Just so you know, the Great Place to Work® Institute is also the organization responsible for assessing the companies on the Fortune Best Companies to Work For list as well.

As with so many other great companies, the Sopra Steria leaders embody and express Servant Leadership, although this session was their first formal introduction to the concepts. From my interactions with many of their leaders, I observed that Servant Leadership was an apt description of how the Sopra Steria best leaders lead when they are leading at their best. Or how most, if not all, of Sopra Steria leaders, aspire to lead.

Servant Leadership is a people-centered approach to life and leadership that puts other people at the center. It places the needs, growth, and development of those led, ahead of those leading.

We explored seven simple secrets of Servant Leadership that result in a great workplace. Then, the Sopra Steria leaders discussed how these “fit” their view of leadership and how a more conscious and consistent practice of servant-leader secrets would impact their organization as a great place to work.

The Seven Simple Servant-Leader Secrets:

  1. Servant-Leaders — more WE, less ME. It’s not that servant-leaders think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less than they do others. You may recognize that as a paraphrase of how C.S. Lewis defined humility.
  2. Servant-Leaders invest in the development of people. They discover the gifts, talents, and aspirations of the people on their team and look for opportunities to help them grow.
  3. Servant-Leaders give credit and accept responsibility. They don’t steal credit from others who actually had the ideas or did the work. And servant-leaders certainly don’t throw a team member under the bus to make themselves look better when something goes wrong.
  4. Servant-Leaders share information & power. They trust their teams with access to information and empower them with the resources necessary to make wise decisions.
  5. Servant-Leaders listen first, talk last (especially when brainstorming). If you want to hear the bright ideas of the people on your team, ask for them. Then listen to what they have to say. Don’t hijack the agenda and stifle discussion by sharing your ideas first.
  6. Servant-Leaders prioritize the practice of presence. There is power in giving someone your full attention. When you are with your team members, be fully with them. Turn your digital device off or over so that you can be fully present in the moment rather than distracted by multi-tasking.
  7. Servant-Leaders savor the significance of small acts. It’s amazing that people remember the little things you do for them. Sopra Steria sends flowers to new employees before their first day on the job. It’s a tradition for which they are known and loved and a favorite topic of social media.

Granted, none of these secrets alone is necessarily revolutionary. Yet imagine the power when all of the leaders in an organization are on the same page, using a common vocabulary, and framework that aligns with the organization’s core values and advances its aspirations.

Servant Leadership is powerful, practical, and personal.

Great leaders are usually already embracing one, or more of these concepts. The invitation I extend leaders is to consider their current leadership challenge and team environment and identify one Servant Leadership secret that would have the greatest impact on their leadership right now.

Imagine you were in a session like this. What’s the one change you would identify, that if you began doing immediately, would have the greatest impact on the effectiveness of your leadership?

Congratulations to Sopra Steria on their accomplishment of continuing to be a great place to work. It’s a reward that is well deserved and of which I saw abundant evidence through my encounters with their leaders.

Remember the power of Servant Leadership is in the doing, not just the knowing.


Kevin Monroe
Kevin Monroe
Kevin Monroe helps people flourish on the road less traveled in business, leadership, and life so they make their dent in the universe. Since he was a teenager, he has usually chosen roads less traveled which usually involve going against the grain and seeking to go with the flow. All in hopes of making the world a better place and inspiring others to do the same. His unique contribution to the world is creating environments, hosting encounters, and crafting experiences where people are inspired, equipped, and encouraged to live, love, and lead in extraordinary ways. He hosts a variety of events and experiences designed to do just that including; the Higher Purpose Podcast, The Gratitude Challenge, This ExtraOrdinary Life, and most recently, The League of Extraordinary Difference Makers. Kevin holds a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University and an undergraduate degree in theology from Mercer University. He lives in Woodstock, GA with his lovely wife, Gwen. They are the parents of two adult children and one precocious granddaughter, Emma.

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