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July 16, 2021 Friday 01:27:36 PM IST

Servant Leadership

Leadership Instincts

When it comes to leadership, there are multiple management approaches that you can use in the organization. Servant leadership is a management approach that can help you develop strong teams with members who are fulfilled both personally and professionally and who with their outstanding work help the organization achieve the long term goals. Robert K. Greenleaf, in his 1970 essay titled The Servant as Leader is credited to have coined the term Servant Leadership. In that essay, he stated that servant leadership starts with the natural propensity that one wants to serve, and therefore, a servant leader is a servant first. The principal objective of a servant leader is the growth and well-being of the people. It is different from conventional leadership and does not believe in accumulation and exercise of power but to put others' needs first. According to Greenleaf, the central idea of putting others' needs first is what drives servant leadership.

Contrary to popular belief, servant leadership is not a checklist to follow. Leaders must be genuine to practice this leadership style and it must start with the self-reflectionof why they want to be servant leaders. Sinek Simon, the leadership expert in his popular TED Talk titled, How Leaders Inspire Action, affirmed the relevance of asking “Why”. Why do you want to lead in a specific way? The aspiration to lead must come from sincere introspection. For servant leaders, it comes from the readiness to put others first, just like any parent does for their children. It’s easy to be a little pessimistic about servant leadership cases in business. In this article, let’s discuss about three servant leadership organizations that strive towards these ideals.


FedEx is one of the most revered and trustworthy brands in the world of supply chain services. The FedEx family of companies deliver total shipping solutions and information services to international customers. From the customer’s perspective, the FedEx brand stands for a company that completely, absolutely lives up to its commitments.Founded in 1971 by Fred Smith, FedEx built a servant leadership culture, letting the business to thrive and grow accordingly. FedEx believes that engaged employees — individuals who trust in the organizational objectives and who have a strong need to contribute — will perform the organizational plan and ultimately ensure organizational success. The fundamental belief is that the individuals are efficient, want to prosper and have the way to make a competitive advantage by being involved in the business and creating emotional bonds with its customers, thereby guaranteeing a long term success to the families, community, and shareholders. The organization does this by taking care of its employees first, believing they will then take care of its customers.The firm’s ideology of “People-Service-Profit” works because it has been implanted into every decision that the organization has made. CEO Fred Smith believes, “When individuals are placed first, they will provide the best possible service, and profits are a natural outcome.”


As a frontrunner in the hotel industry, Marriott is known for its excellent service. Half of Marriott’s general managers started out as hourly workers, signifying that the hotel chain isn’t just retaining employees — it’s equipping them to move through the ranks and grow into new roles. Much of this can be credited to Marriott’s intense focus on training. Every new employee receives three months of education before their first day on the job, and for their first month, a mentor is assigned to the new hires who can answer their queries and provide on-the-job training when required. Apart from the evident advantage of guaranteeing new hires know how to do their jobs well, Marriott is also demonstrating each employee that the organization care about their success.The core value of putting people first set Marriott apart from its competition and highlight on their spirit to serve and corporate commitment of creating better places to live and work. As a result, Fortune magazine acknowledged Marriott in 2018 as the ―World’s Most Admired Companies for its dedication on the well-being of its employees.


Starbucks Corporation has a servant leadership style, which embodies the behavioural demonstration of the organization’s culture among leaders. In this approach, top management underscore support for subordinates to ensure growth opportunity for all employees. This feature of Starbucks’ corporate culture resonates in employees-first attitude. The company stresses the relevance of caring for employees as a way of enhancing employee morale and customer satisfaction. Former Starbucks President Howard Behar built this feature of the firm’s organizational culture because he firmly believed that employees who are cared for are the ones who care about customers. Overall, it is critical for the leaders to live, eat and breathe whatever culture they want and then continuously emphasise and transfer their key values with employees. If you want to change culture, instead of talking about it, leaders need to live it.Based on their strong beliefs about the significance of employee engagement in developing a successful business and lasting organization, it was critical to top management at Starbucks to build a culture of servant leadership.  Finally, they knew that “how you treat your people is how they’ll treat your customers”.

Instances of servant leadership in business are common, but not instantly evident. A little investigation quickly finds many instances of servant leadership in the workplace: in business thinking, the leadership ideologies of today’s CEOs, the organizational cultures they aim to build, and in fresh understandings of Robert Greenleaf’s work. Servant leadership is alive and well!

Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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