While there are many definitions of servant leadership, Robert K. Greenleaf, who coined the term, Servant Leadership, explains that it first begins with the natural feeling to serve; a conscious choice to aspire one to lead, making sure other people’s highest priority needs are being served so they grow as a person, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves want to become servants.
According to Northouse, servant leadership is an approach focusing on leadership from the point of view of the leader and his or her behaviors. Servant leadership emphasizes that leaders be attentive to the concerns of their followers, empathize with them, and nurture them. Servant leaders put followers first, empower them, and help them develop their full personal capacities. Furthermore, servant leaders are ethical and lead in ways that serve the greater good of the organization, community, and society at large (Northouse, 2016).
Intrigued with the success of Starbucks, I discovered that they have built a servant leadership culture. Starbucks has gained respect for not just being the largest coffee chain in the world, but also for creating a culture of openness and putting employees first. Based on their strong beliefs about the importance of employee engagement in building a successful business and lasting organization, it was important to top executives at Starbucks to instill a culture of servant leadership. Ultimately, they knew that “how you treat your people is how they’ll treat your customers” (Greenleaf, 2015).
Northouse describes a list of characteristics to model servant leader behavior (conceptualizing, emotional healing, putting followers first, helping followers grow and succeed, behaving ethically, empowering, and creating value for the community). Although, Starbucks Coffee’s organizational culture has a number of key characteristics that is unique to the firm, they coincide with the characteristics listed in Northouse. The company describes its organizational culture as, “a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity.” In this regard, the main features of Starbucks’ organizational culture are as follows:
- Servant Leadership “employees first” (Leaders, managers and supervisors emphasize support for subordinates to ensure that everyone grows in the company)
- Relationship-driven approach (Culture that supports warm and friendly relationships)
- Collaboration and communication (Encourages collaborative efforts through effective communication)
- Openness (Open forums to encourage employees to ask questions and communicate with superiors. Empowers employees and facilitates innovation)
- Inclusion and Diversity (An anti-discrimination policy that shapes its organizational culture. It facilitates sharing and rapport among employees, as well as innovation based on diverse ideas.)
As Greenleaf highlighted in his original work (1970), the central goal of servant leadership is to create healthy organizations that nurture individual growth, strengthen organizational performance, and, in the end, produce a positive impact on society (Northouse, 2016).
Today, Starbucks Coffee’s organizational culture is a key success factor in the business. The company prides its distinct characteristic to that which built a competitive advantage and developed a consumer population of loyal Starbucks fans.
Ferguson, E., (2017). Starbucks Coffee Company’s Organizational Culture. Panmore Institute. Retrieved from http://panmore.com/starbucks-coffee-company-organizational-culture
Greenleaf, R. (2015). How Starbucks Built a Servant Leadership Culture. Center for Servant Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.greenleaf.org/how-starbucks-built-a-servant-leadership-culture-qa-with-howard-behar/
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Penn State World Campus (n.d.). Leadership in Work Settings. [Commentary]. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834747/modules/items/21827937