Guest Post: The Case for Servant Leadership

Posted By: Dan Albaum Contributed Content,

In times of rapid technology change and intense competition, attracting and retaining top talent has never been more critical for making a real impact. The inspiration, motivation, and vision surging inside of any growth-focused company is going to be driven by the relentless reinforcement of senior leadership. And it is precisely this executive team that has a conscious choice to make about the norms and values it will prioritize, including ensuring a proper strategic balance between people, process, and technology as it drives its initiatives forward in building sustainable, healthy external partnerships and alliances.

As more companies apply a greater focus on the human factor in driving marketplace differentiation, traditional approaches to leadership built around “command and control” are rightfully being reevaluated. 

The concept of servant leadership is not new; it was originally called out in Robert F. Greenleaf’s essay “The Servant as Leader” in 1970. But what exactly is a servant leader?

A Different Approach

A servant leader puts the needs of others before their own in focusing on the well-being of employees and the communities they are a part of. This is quite different from historical, hierarchical leadership models. And in a world where research consistently shows that trust is a critical ingredient in the success of intercompany partnerships, executive leadership that is fully committed to the well-being of broader communities really matters. 

Where traditional leaders see leadership as some type of rank to attain, servant leaders see leadership as a major opportunity to serve others. Where traditional leaders use power and control to drive performance, servant leaders actively share power and control to drive more engagement. A traditional leader measures success through output. A servant leader measures success through growth and development. While traditional leaders speak, servant leaders actively listen.  

This “seek to understand” approach is strongly aligned with placing high value on partnerships and alliances in recognizing that much greater outcomes can be achieved by not going it alone. It is the polar opposite of a more ego-driven, “What have you done for me lately?” attitude. Where traditional leaders believe it is about them, servant leaders understand it is not about them. Through it all, servant leaders are applying a strong dose of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and persuasion to all their interactions both inside the company and with external strategic alliances.

New Generations in the Workforce

So how else does this very different servant leader approach matter?

New generations of professionals are now dominating the workplace, including personnel from the companies you partner with and through. By 2025, nearly a third of all workers will be represented by Gen Z (born 1997–2012), the fastest-growing worker segment. As it enters the professional workspace, Gen Z has a different set of expectations of the companies—and leaders—they work with. Research shows Gen Z is more comfortable with flexible, remote, or hybrid work environments, with a higher standard for social responsibility. In fact, LinkedIn surveys have shown that as many as 75 percent of Gen Z workers are thinking of leaving a job that does not offer flexible work policies. They thrive with a leadership style that is more about empowerment and support versus command and control. What they value most from leadership is humility, perspective, courage, and social skills—all commonly exhibited through a servant leader approach. 

Creating an atmosphere that is better aligned to the growing new work generation will pay dividends in talent acquisition, improved employee engagement, higher satisfaction, and better retention for both employees and customers, plus a more effective, robust approach to forging healthy strategic alliances with other organizations. A Gallup Survey showed companies with servant leadership as a core value generating a 20 percent boost in engagement. Other studies have shown company performance gains of 6 to 10 percent, more than doubling pretax returns versus the S&P 500 and generating as much as a 50 percent increase in employee satisfaction. These higher-performing companies with more engaged employees are in a much better position to develop lasting, meaningful partnerships.

Better Relationships, Inside and Out

Making the commitment to servant leadership transforms relationships both internally and externally—a vital consideration given the impact of strategic alliance partnerships focused on market differentiation and efficient scale.  

The opportunity to make a measurable difference in your strategic alliance strategy has never been greater. The stakes have never been higher in choosing to be the person—and the leader—you want to be and can be. To be the impact maker you deserve to be. 

 Dan Albaum is the author of The Impact Makers: Voices of Leadership, as well as a global marketing leader for growth-focused technology companies and a passionate advocate for servant leadership. He is also the host of the award-winning podcast Market Impact Insights, sharing ideas on truly exceptional leadership practices.