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Transform Your Workplace Culture with Servant Leadership

By Melissa Maldonado, Director of Customer Support

As published in Digital Dealer.

If employee turnover is a top concern for your dealership, one of your top priorities must be transforming your workplace culture and leadership style.

We traditionally think of leadership as a top-down, authoritarian hierarchy. Years ago, this was the typical structure in almost every dealership. There was also a general belief that a high-pressure sales environment drove financial success.

But a large and growing body of research suggests otherwise. While high-pressure environments may drive short-term gains, they create workplace stress and disengaged employees in the long term, which negatively impacts employee and customer retention.

Today’s operational challenges call for a different approach to leadership. To attract and retain the best talent, organizations are re-tooling their leadership style to incorporate modern principles of servant leadership.

Studies show that organizations with a servant leadership style enjoy better employee retention, improved productivity and a healthier bottom line. Examples include Southwest Airlines, Costco, Nordstrom and Starbucks. It’s no coincidence that these companies are also on Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.

The term “servant leadership” was first coined in an essay written by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. Later he expanded the essay into a book, which became one of the most influential leadership texts ever written. Greenleaf’s research led him to believe that the power-centered, authoritarian leadership style so prominent in U.S. institutions wasn’t working.

To be clear, when we say serve we don’t mean serving as in fetching coffee for your employees. The desire to serve is a genuine desire to help others. It’s a leadership style that serves the group interests first, and the leaders’ interest second.

10 Principles of Servant Leadership

According to Greenleaf, servant leaders practice these principles:

Listening

Communication is a two-way process. Many leaders are good at doing the talking and less so at listening. Effective servant leaders are able to listen intently and respectfully to their staff and act on the information they receive.

Empathy

Servant leaders are able to deeply understand and empathize with others. It is important to recognize and accept people for their uniqueness and understand their point of view.

Healing

This does not mean physically healing but rather healing on a more holistic level. This can be achieved through discussion, coaching, mentoring and relationship-oriented leadership styles.

Awareness

Having a wider awareness of yourself and others is a common trait of effective servant leaders. Understanding strengths, weaknesses and areas for development and support is crucial for maximizing performance.

Persuasion

A key difference between servant leadership and other styles of leadership is that servant leaders rely largely on persuasion and cooperation rather than authority and delegation. Servant leaders have an ability to convince others as opposed to coercing them into compliance.

Conceptualization

Servant leaders have the ability to look at a problem from a conceptualizing perspective, meaning they are able to think beyond the day-to-day realities of their work.

Foresight

Everything is connected – the past, the present, and future. Servant leaders have an intuitive ability to predict what is likely to happen in future, based on the past and the present. This foresight enables these leaders to plan ahead.

Stewardship

A servant leader acts as a steward for the organization’s resources. They assume complete responsibility for planning and managing all available resources for the betterment and prosperity of the organization, employees, and stakeholders.

Commitment to the Growth of People

Servant leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond that of the work they do. They are committed to both the personal and professional growth of each and every individual within their organization. Ensuring staff welfare and well-being is also a big consideration for servant leaders.

A servant leader takes it upon themselves to develop others. They are likely to help employees chart out a clear career path and provide them with resources to progress from one level to the next.

Community/Team Building

Developing and maintaining an effective community or team is fundamental to servant leadership. Servant leaders seek to identify ways in which social and task orientated teams can be built amongst those who work within their organization.

Under a servant leader, people come together for a common purpose. They are able to create a feeling of belonging to something bigger than each individual, and foster team spirit and a sense of community. Servant leaders also deeply care for this community that they create.

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