The implications of servant leadership and its applicability to the workplace of today has been examined. The unique offerings that come by way of implementing servant leadership have been taken up. The particular aspects that have been researched include the applicability of servant leadership in the workplace of today, the relationship of servant leadership with values, what those values precisely are, and finally the kind of culture that fosters servant leadership.
As the workplace of the 21st century continues to evolve into a more diverse grouping, the feeling of “us versus them” continues to exacerbate, sometimes giving rise to “tribalism”. The term has been defined by McGee-Cooper (2005) to indicate blocks of employees, segregated from organizational philosophy and deeply suspecting of the company management, usually during times of excessive change (merger, bankruptcy etc.). The challenge of complete integration looms large upon the larger companies especially, and organizational leadership must simultaneously evolve in an all-inclusive way. Servant leadership is highly applicable in such cases because it firmly integrates the organization at multiple levels, while ensuring that there is little tribalism.
When considering servant leadership, perhaps one of the biggest held misconceptions are those that surround its applicability. Proponents of servant leadership have claimed that the theory of servant leadership is as easily subscribed to in larger, well-established organizations in industries where barriers of entry are high, as it is in industries where competition can be very fierce. Hamilton (2005) is of the view that practicing servant leadership has less to do with the context, and more to do with the three most important qualities of trust, bravery and forgiveness. In order to arrive at the aspect of universalism in applicability, he reviews the application of servant leadership into the diurnal lives of leaders. In order to do this, he reviews real-world examples from churches to Fortune 500 companies that are relying upon servant leadership. In fact, the applicability of servant leadership is found to also have an impact upon just what philanthropy means to a leader. Ford & Sturman (2011) reviewed a number of successful work cultures and found servant leadership to be a commonly present trait in one form or another. Once again, over here, researchers could not distinguish industries where servant leadership would not be applicable. Klein (2012) speaks of employee centric philosophies and policies. In order to articulate his points, the author has taken the example of Lincoln electric, Southwest Airlines and SAS Institute. While each of these three companies operates in entirely different industries and corporate environments, their similarities consist of the deep-seated appreciation and respect for employees in general.
Yet another point of intense debate is that of values surrounding servant leadership. Researchers articulate several common core values that either constitute or enhance servant leadership. For example, the authors Rynetta, Sutton, & Field (2006) claim that empathy, integrity, agreeableness and competence are extremely important for any well-rounded and responsible leader. These researchers chose the organizations and looked at 126 leaders together with their 288 followers. The servant leadership scale of Dennis and Winston, together with the goal and mode value inventories of Braithwaite and Law were used to arrive at the relationship between follower’s ratings of the servant leadership prevalent, together with the other four values. The researchers found that the servant leadership ratings of leaders were positively correlated with the measures of values (empathy, integrity, competence as well as agreeableness). These researchers also stated that accurate information regarding the four attributes must be communicated if the organization wants to retain leaders. These qualities are closely allied with those espoused by Hamilton (2005): trust, bravery and forgiveness.
Yet another aspect of research surrounds the organizational culture, and how it is related to servant leadership. Hamilton (2005) noted that servant leadership fosters a culture of learning, whereby, even seasoned leaders experience vitality from all of the new information that they course through. In particular, it is supposed to enable a deeper meaning of philanthropy. The authors Rynetta, Sutton and Field (2006) note that unless an organizational culture is rich in values and information on the attributes is communicated, it would be very hard to retain leaders. Further, in an effort to preserve the prevalent organizational culture, the selection criteria should be made richer in values fostering servant leadership.
The researchers Ford & Sturman (2011) note the importance of company culture when it comes to customer service and overall success. The researchers point at the essential composition of any culture: the language employed, the belief system propagated and finally, philosophies – which is where servant leadership comes in. A review of the most successful corporate cultures is done and some of the most important ways in which it can be harnessed has been taken up, including patterns of servant leadership and its effective transformation of company culture.
Klein (2012) on the other hand, centers his analysis around three widely appreciated company cultures: Lincoln Electric, Southwest Airlines, and SAS Institute. In his research, Klein focuses upon the importance of employee attitudes and the resulting performance to overall success of the organization. He also stresses upon the importance of the influence that company philosophy has upon its employees and stakeholders, together with the organizational policy as well as organizational practices. Of particular interest to this study are those organizations that have shown a consistent record of success owing to their employee centric philosophies and policies. The reason for selecting the three companies was the widely varying industries in which they were operating and their employees centrism. For example, the researcher notes that none of these three companies have laid off a single full-time worker since their founding. Leaders within each of these organizations value their relationship with employees in the spirit that long-term well-being of employees translates into strategic satisfaction for the shareholders, in a quintessential interpretation of the tenets of servant leadership. Thus, merely a slowdown does not worry them into letting go.
The specter of servant leadership stands in direct opposition to the concepts of exclusion, exploitation and jeopardy. In a way, each entity is turned into a stakeholder via servant leadership. The author McGee – Cooper (2005) brings out the stark, ugly reality where the philosophy of servant leadership is entirely defeated, in the form of tribalism or cultural wars at the workplace. The situation is particularly exacerbated in the event that the organization is going through major changes (including mergers or acquisitions). The us against them mentality during such times can give rise to tribes, that takes from the culture of teamwork. The researcher notes that feelings of mistrust may rise against the common enemy: the boss, new workers etc. It is the author’s contention that the tribalism is intensified in organizations where hierarchy is very important and roles are clearly cut. Such organizations have a big gap to fill between the management and the workers. Offering suggestions to end tribalism, including the need to manage change, as well as greater trust between the stakeholders in order to improve relationships, servant leadership has been recommended.
From the studies, a number of valuable points about servant leadership can be derived. For one, Hamilton’s (2005) analysis reveals that servant leadership is very well applicable in the competitive world as well. Secondly, we found that the qualities of empathy, integrity, agreeableness and competence go hand-in-hand with servant leadership. Subsequently, it was also noted that the kind of leadership, which goes into the making of any organization’s culture is extremely important to the strategic financial and service related well-being. It was also learned that companies, for example, SAS, Southwest etc. have been successful in wildly different industries because of their focus upon employees and their well-being. Finally, we found that greater hierarchy is worst for companywide integration because suspicions start to take root.
Given the research above, organizational leaders can most importantly, centralize the essence of the company worker. Once the worker is centralized, their well-being is taken care of by the company, deriving greater loyalty as in the case of Southwest or SAS. Servant leadership encapsulates the idea of representation in a participative, almost democratic fashion. Implementation of this leadership style will help reduce the feelings of mistrust and factionalism within the workforce where there are clear-cut lines between the management and the workforce.
The centrality being given to employees can be seen in the wider context of consolidating rights and privileges coming to the workforce over the past few decades. The workforce of today is even more informed and has more legal recourses. Traditional paradigms of leadership, for example, the personality cult, can hardly justify or appropriately accommodate the situational demands of the modern workplace. This is especially true when there is strife in the air with extraordinary circumstances, for example, a merger or a bankruptcy, when employees may gather together in a phenomenon called tribalism. Certain organizations have demonstrated adequately methodologies to overcome these weaknesses, by according employees centrality and providing them equal representation, often by implementing the principles of servant leadership. This style of leadership firmly integrates the organization at multiple levels, while ensuring that there is little tribalism.
Ford, R., & Sturman, M. C. (2011). Harnessing the power of your culture for outstanding service [Electronic version]. Retrieved from Cornell University, SHA School site: http://scholarship.sha.cornell.edu/articles/240
Hamilton, F. (2005). Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness. Academy of Management Review. 30(4), 875-877. Retrieved from http://amr.aom.org/content/30/4/875.short
Klein, G. D. (2012). Creating cultures that lead to success: Lincoln Electric, Southwest Airlines, and SAS Institute. Organizational Dynamics. 41(1), 32–43. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090261611000799
McGee-Cooper, A. (2005). Tribalism: Culture Wars at Work. Journal for Quality & Participation. 28(1), p12-15. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com/abstract? Direct=true&profile=ehost&scope=site&authtype=crawler&jrnl=10409602&AN= 17153329&h=taGX0aQUPmBACV6vABvdY2juIjk4s31ontXSXakvGG9xampCU PaZzR5AFK3kNBefqNVIm72FedDBYHLsT%2bsdjA%3d%3d&crl=c
Rynetta, R. W., Sutton, C. D. & Field, H. S. (2006) “Individual differences in servant leadership: the roles of values and personality”. Leadership & Organization Development Journal 27(8), pp.700 – 716. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=1580821&show=abstract