Early in my career, I worked somewhere that introduced a new organizational chart that was different than other org charts I had seen before. Typically, the higher you go in title the higher you climb on the chart. With this one, the higher your title the lower you were on the chart. Their reasoning was the more you advance in title, the more people you were responsible for serving. This flips the script on leadership for many.
But this is exactly the leadership Jesus modeled and how he told the disciples to lead. In talking with his disciples, Jesus told them that they see rulers and leaders take advantage of their authority over others, but that should not be true of His followers. Instead, whoever wants to be great must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a servant to all. As the Son of God, Jesus told them He did not come to be served by everyone but to serve and give His life for them (Mark 10:42-45).
Throughout Scripture we see Jesus live this out as He washed the feet of others, a job that no dignified person ever did in their culture. He often stopped what he was doing to help someone in need and have compassion for them. Time after time, we see Jesus elevate the marginalized, the downcast, and the oppressed. Then, of course, He died a gruesome death by crucifixion as a ransom for all of us so we could all be made new in right relationship with God. Jesus was the ultimate servant leader.
“True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not to enrich the leader.” – John Maxwell
What does servant leadership look like in a business setting? How does a business leader live this out with their employees? Just like Jesus, you have people in your care who you can help be the best versions of themselves. For the 40 hours each week that your employees are looking to you, you have an opportunity to serve them, help them be successful in their work, and guide them in growing in their careers and as individuals.
First, ask those who work for you how you can support them. Maybe there is something they are stuck on that is hindering them from moving forward with a project, and you can help get them over that hurdle. Perhaps they are hungry to learn new job skills that will propel them in their career and increase the caliber of their current work, and you can make that happen for them. Similarly, help them understand where they might be underperforming and work with them to come up with a plan for improving. Serving your employees and setting them up for success is the responsibility of every business leader, and employees will appreciate working for someone who is willing to do this.
A servant leader is always looking for ways to meet the needs of those they lead and helps them to become better versions of themselves.
As a leader, recognize that your team members have skill sets that you don’t, and they contribute to the success of your business because they are the subject matter expert in certain areas. Humbly acknowledge that they know more than you on certain things and you trust them to do the job they are here to do. There may even be times where it is appropriate to ask someone to lead a workshop for the some of your team in which you also attend and take notes, sharing all that you learned from them afterwards.
When your team knows that you know the value they bring, not only does it energize them in their work but also encourages them to continue to find ways to contribute back to your business. When a leader understands that they have something to learn from those who work for them it creates a culture of learning where everyone can become their best, and that serves your team in a way where everyone wins.
What kind of benefits do you offer your employees? Providing the best quality benefits packages to your employees that your business can afford to offer shows that you care for their personal well-being. When physical or mental health needs arise, they can feel confident in their ability to take steps towards addressing them without it costing them a fortune. And when they are able to take care of their personal health, they will be focused in their role at work.
Crisis and unexpected needs come up for everyone from time to time. Think about how you might create a committee of people to send cards and flowers when a family member passes away, or who deliver dinners after a surgery, or contribute toys and clothes when one welcomes a child in foster care to their home. With some forward planning, you can start saving funds that can help with these needs as they arise. Serving your employees at critical moments in their lives exhibits care for them beyond their work lives and what they contribute to you on the clock.
Serving your employees at critical moments in their lives exhibits care for them beyond their work lives and what they contribute to you on the clock.
There are often simple things you can do to serve those you work with as well. Celebrate them on their staff anniversary and recognize some of their accomplishments and your gratitude in front of others at a staff meeting. Take note of your team’s coffee orders and bring them their favorite drink on an especially busy day. Celebrate a goofy national holiday together. These little things show appreciation to those who work with you and for you and that you pay attention to them.
There are many ways to be a servant leader in your business, but first it starts with a mentality that as the leader you have a team of people to serve and it’s a big responsibility. Steward your most important resource – your people – with care and intentionality. It’s the example Jesus set, and it is what he instructed of his followers.