Servant Leadership for Small Business Owners: An Abridged Guide

Servant Leadership for Small Business Owners: An Abridged Guide

The lives of firefighters and soldiers depend on their ability to follow directions. In the crisis situations these professionals deal with, it’s vital to know who’s in charge; there’s simply no time for discussing solutions with the whole team.   

However, if you’re a small business owner, you likely aren’t rescuing anyone from a burning building. You’ve got the time to implement a flat hierarchy, and you ought to take it!   

A flat hierarchy is exactly what it sounds like. With fewer or no hierarchical levels, you’ll boost autonomy, creativity, morale, collaboration, and efficiency. We’re not saying everything about your company will improve, but we’re not not saying that.    

This organization structure demands servant leaders that put the needs of their employees above their desire for authority. While servant leadership isn’t a new concept, it’s certainly under-utilized. Before we change that, let’s do a little history lesson. (Don’t worry, we’ll be brief!)  

The (Abridged!) History of Servant Leadership  

You can thank Robert Greenleaf for coining the term “servant leadership” in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader.” He contrasts this style of leadership with traditional leaders who focus on the accumulation of wealth and power at the top.  

The Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (an excellent resource) defines the servant leader as a person who “shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”   

The term was further popularized by Larry Spears, a writer and philosopher who has published 15 books on servant leadership. He’s now the foremost expert on this leadership style and has simplified Greenleaf’s writings into nine principles for aspiring servant leaders to follow.  

Without further ado, let’s break these principles down and start towards the path to healthier and more productive work practices!   

1. Empathy  

It all starts with empathy. Figure out exactly what your employees need for success, and provide it!   

This will be easier to do if you’ve taken the time to understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses. You’ll know when to give more support, and when to step back and let them lead.   

2. Stewardship  

You know the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do”? It’s time to retire that phrase. Successful stewardship means leading by example.  

Build trust by being the first to own up when you’ve made a mistake, and never delegate a task that you wouldn’t take on yourself.  

3. Foresight  

Take care of your team by anticipating future challenges, and nip them in the bud! This can be especially helpful with a trustworthy financial expert.   

An accountant will look at the big picture of your finances and point out potential issues or opportunities for future growth. (Check out our recent blog post on finding the perfect accountant!)  

4. Persuasion  

When you hear the term “persuasion,” you might think of an icky con man…that’s not what we mean! We’re talking about building an environment in which your team feels connected to the goals of your company.  

When you focus on talent development and allow your employees to have autonomy over their tasks, you’ll inspire them to take pride in their performance.   

5. Conceptualization  

Conceptualization is all about bringing your vision to life. Your employees will only be able to effectively contribute to the big-picture goals of your business when they know what the big picture is.   

A solid mission statement will allow employees to properly prioritize tasks to best serve your business’s primary goals. (Psst…we’ve got a blog post on writing a killer mission statement.)  

6. Awareness  

Listen to your employees! They’ll feel valued and seen, and you’ll be made aware of any potential issues that need fixing.   

The principle of awareness doesn’t stop there. You’ll also need to have a great deal of self-awareness to be an effective servant leader. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have team members who could take the lead in areas where you struggle? All questions to (honestly!) answer when looking to improve your leadership skills.   

7. Healing  

The world is full of toxic work environments, so it’s likely that some of your new employees will have come from a company with unhealthy work practices.  

Empower your team to set firm boundaries and protect their time. Never ask your employees to work outside of contracted hours! You’ll only drive your team to resentment and burnout. It’s your job to show employees that respect and kindness can (and should!) be found in the workplace.  

8. Commitment to Growth  

Take the time to develop leadership qualities in each of your employees. In a successful flat hierarchy, every team member will have moments to take the reins.  

Your employees will take more pride in their tasks if you give them opportunities to lead.   

Make sure they’re ready for those opportunities! Consider allocating funds to allow your teams to attend conferences for training opportunities.   

9. Building Community  

Teams that play together, stay together! A little bit of time spent scheduling fun into your schedule can go a long way.   

You might organize a movie night or team dinner, or bring in an improv comedy group for a team-building workshop. You’ll build trust and fellowship with these outings, leading to improved communication among teammates.  

See what happens when you decentralize power and focus energy on serving your team. (Spoiler alert: You’ll boost productivity, morale, and profits!) When you choose to lead as a servant, you’ll build a healthy team dynamic. Simple as that.   

If you’re looking to build a healthier relationship with your finances, consider hiring a financial expert. To get in touch with a powerhouse financial team, contact KYN today! We’ll get your finances on the right track so you can focus on what matters most…leading your team to success.   

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