Before we dive into what it means to be an effective Servant Leader, I want to tell you a story...
In the Servant Leadership workshops we teach, we often lead in to the content we’ve adapted from Robert Greenleaf by asking the group:
How do you welcome new hires into your organization? Do you hand them a uniform and point them in the general direction of the front counter? Do you have them attend several days of classroom training before they ever talk to a customer? Do they learn about your organization’s history and vision from someone in leadership? Or do they get their information from the disgruntled employees out on the back dock?
Back in 2007, when Zingerman’s wrote Zingerman’s 2020 Vision describing what the business would look like in the year 2020, we wrote that “we [Zingerman’s] have successfully quantified fun, measured fun, and improved our fun factor by at least 380% since 2007. We actively teach people how to have fun at work. We have games to increase the volume of fun we experience and reward ourselves with added fun.”
We all know service is important—right? We’d be surprised if there were a company left in the US which hasn’t incorporated some version of “the customer is always right” into its employee handbook. Every politician and business leader can quote statistics about the pros and cons of the relentless move towards a “service economy.” And service is the topic most requested by clients who want ZingTrain to speak or work with their organization. On the other hand, many people feel that the level of customer service that they receive as customers is lower than ever.
Zingerman’s didn’t invent the idea of Servant Leadership - we learned our approach from Robert Greenleaf and have adapted his thoughts, along with the thoughts of many other leaders we’ve admired, into our approach to Servant Leadership. The basic idea of servant leadership is that, first and foremost, we are here to serve the organization. The higher we move up in the organization, the more people we are there to serve, not the more people who are there to serve us.