“Servant Leadership” is a term used frequently on resumes of leaders trying to find a company within an organization. However, what does servant leadership mean to these leaders? If a company is looking for “servant leadership” in their leaders, then important questions need to be asked regarding servant behaviors such as “conceptualizing, emotional healing, putting followers first, helping followers succeed, behaving ethically, and creating value for the community” (Pennsylvania State University, 2018, para. 9 ). Otherwise, what one considers servant leadership may be entirely different than what the organization views as servant leadership.
If servant leadership is not applied correctly, “The application [of servant leadership] will seem like lip service rather than authentic by followers” (Pennsylvania State University, 2018, para. 13) and the followers may “become mistrustful of the leader and the organization” (Pennsylvania State University, 2018, para. 13). An example of this was when a team of executive members were in a meeting and decided that twice a week all of them would mail letters individually to employee homes to let them know how much they appreciated them. The feedback received was, “we know it isn’t sincere”, and “I received a letter from the CFO, I have no idea who the CFO is!”.
This method may have worked if the leaders, on their own time, worked side by side with the employee, saw what their day entailed, saw the work they did firsthand and praised them while being with them. Also, another way would be to ask them questions regarding challenges they are facing and what tools and support do they need to help them with challenges they are facing. The key, though, is to follow up with the employee on those conversations and provide them with the tools that are necessary. As Northouse (2016) states, “Servant leadership works best when leaders are altruistic and have a strong motivation and deep-seated interest in helping others” (p. 238).
So the next time an organization receives a resume that states they are “servant leaders” the organization should develop questions that question what exactly “servant leadership” means to the candidate and “be careful to select people who are interested in and capable of building long-term relationships with followers” (Northouse, 2016, p. 241). They should also “focus on selecting people who have high integrity and strong ethics” (Northouse, 2016, p. 241).
Servant leadership is rewarding if it is applied correctly. An organization will see “follower performance and growth, organizational performance, and societal impact” (Pennsylvania State University, 2018, para. 10).
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory in practice. Chapter 10: Servant Leadership. Western Michigan University. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Pennsylvania State University. (2018). Lesson 11: Servant Leadership. PSYCH 485: Leadership in work settings. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1925331/modules/items/23786622