I hear and read a lot of blogs throughout the web on the topic of servant leadership. It is a philosophy that I subscribe to, and I hope that those who I work with and for would agree with that statement.

Servant leadership is incredibly rewarding for the leader because it builds a level or trust and reciprocity that can never be created through a traditional organizational hierarchy.

For those less familiar, the tenants of servant leadership are really quite simple. The premise is built on an upside down organizational model where the top of the org chart is represented by the customer and then the front line workers and managers. It is at the very bottom of the organization where the executives and senior managers live. This is because in the servant leadership model the executives work for “the people.”

As I mentioned before, it is in such an environment where talented people tend to achieve the greatest results. It is rooted in the organization providing them with the correct support in order to do so.

However, for an organization to effectively achieve the benefits of servant leadership there are tenants that exist and rules that apply. First there are tenants in which the organization must subscribe to and then second rules related to the quality of people in which the company employs. Without the right mix of these two things the benefits of servant leadership will rarely if every be fully recognized.

First, the organizational tenants:

  • Consistency – Servant leadership cannot only exist amongst the most senior leaders. This must be passed from top to bottom to enable the employees throughout the entire organization. Often leadership becomes more and more stringent and managerial in its design and execution as processes move throughout an organization. This leads to highly empowered senior leaders and often a micro-managed and sometimes resentful front line.
  • Empowerment – More than just the act of delegation, the servant leader must genuinely empower, endure failure, and even take blame for the shortcomings of their team. I have long believed that real relationships and trust are most often built in the proverbial foxhole. When your team sees your commitment to them during the tougher times it will build unparalleled reciprocity.
  • Commitment – An organization that subscribes to the upside down organization has to be heavily committed to this philosophy. Beyond consistent, it needs to be committed to the recruiting, training, retaining, and more than anything defining a culture where the employee is the leader. The dedication to building an organization of employees who believe in their leadership starts in the company’s vision and is reflected in every activity that the company performs.

A consistent, empowering organization that commits itself to serving its people has the foundation of great results. However, the organization must also have the right people on board and this can be equally as challenging.

I refer to this as the DNA of a great hire. And these are the types of employees required to reap the benefits of servant leadership. Below are three key traits found in this type of hire.

  • Motivated – To benefit from enablement and an empowered environment the employee must be motivated. While motivation alone will not guarantee success, it is required as part of the foundation. Servant leaders will rarely provide you with a list of instructions but rather a nudge in the right direction. Whether or not you arrive will be entirely up to you.
  • Dedicated – Not just dedicated to the job, but to the company and its vision. Enlightenment comes from failures (note empowerment above) as much as anything and some employees will become disenchanted when the aren’t successful out of the gate. But to truly learn the student must want to learn (motivated) and be willing to put in the work (dedicated).
  • Competent – The “Peter Principle” talks about the employee being promoted up to their own level of incompetency. Well, an incompetent employee will likely struggle immensely even with great servant leadership. It does take “Enough” of the right ability to overcome this tendency. With the right basic knowledge combined with the traits above the employee is in a perfect place to benefit from servant leadership.

While like most business practices, the three organizational tenants and the three DNA traits will never guarantee success, I firmly believe that they serve as the foundation.

Like a strategy without execution, a great servant leader will likely fail if those he leads are not dedicated to the cause. Our organizations have a cause and it is our jobs to earn the commitment from our people to back these causes; servant leaders shine a light on the cause and make believers out of everyone that they work FOR.