6 Practices for CEOs to Cultivate a Servant Leadership Style


With power comes pride. Consumed by a toxic ego, leaders tend to stay at the center of every decision-making process they undertake, trying to color company policies in their own image. Servant leadership principles like “Leading from the Back, Inclusive Approach, and Extreme Ownership” seem totally foreign to them. In his classic, “The ego is the enemy, ”Author Ryan Holiday cites examples of self-confident and obsessive creative geniuses like Steve Jobs and Kayne West, known for their “my way or the highway” attitude.

Rather, servant leaders control their arrogance at every turn by making their employees feel valuable and comfortable. Service leaders who believe in walking hand in hand with their employees as colleagues and not as their bosses. Stoic leaders who don’t feel entitled or seek validation or gratification in the form of bigger paychecks.

This post tries to find six different practices that a CEO can adopt to make their employees feel the same and not above them.

Servant leadership
Servant leadership fosters a collaborative atmosphere

Server leaders who lead with humility adopt decentralized decision-making practices, sit alongside employees, accept interruptions with open arms, etc. Let’s take a look at these six different practices CEOs can adopt to develop servant leadership styles without further ado.

# 1. Ditch the plush cubicle offices

From what I know, American bestselling author Cal Newport wouldn’t buy into this idea, as he sees cubicles as getting in the way of deep work. Newport’s book, “Deep Work,” will convince you to abandon the idea of ​​cubicles and look for secluded corners where distractions are minimal.

While Newport may dismiss the concept of cubicles, it cannot be argued how the CEOs of yesteryear have been leveraging the concept of cubicles to bridge the gap between CEOs and employees.

Servant leadership: cubicles encourage constructive confrontation
Cubicles encourage constructive confrontation

For starters, former Intel CEO Andy Grove firmly believed that cubes facilitate collaboration between CEO and employees. Over the years, various CEOs have tried and succeeded in emulating his style of operation.

If you look at current CEOs, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg sits at a desk alongside his employees, as does Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. Hsieh came up with a strange name, “Monkey Row” (since he doesn’t like the term “executive”) to describe the rows where he sits alongside his staff. Likewise, you have former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and billionaire Michael Bloomberg who were ardent advocates for cubicles.

The biggest benefit of sitting next to their employees is that CEOs know things they wouldn’t have if they were sitting locked in their corporate suites. As Andy Grove admits in an interview with the Businessweek profile, “the idea was to encourage constructive confrontation.” Simply put, when he was around, anyone could come by and talk to him at length to the point of being able to speak his mind without shame, as there was no fear of being fired.

# 2. Take $ 1 as salary

Living up to the spirit of the true servant leadership model, some CEOs receive as little as $ 1 a year as a paycheck. Why can you ask? One reason could be that these CEOs have massive stock options and tend to make millions if the company is doing well.

I know what you’re thinking. What if the company doesn’t do well? Simple: These CEOs put a dollar in their pocket. I know such servant leaders are a rare species and the idea may sound a bit crazy; However, in a sense, it sends a clear message to employees: “I don’t feel entitled. Or I do not seek validation of my performance through more abundant paychecks. All that matters to me is working to achieve the goals of the company. Everything else is a by-product. Period.”

Servant leadership - some CEOs don't feel entitled to higher salaries
Some CEOs don’t seek validation in the form of bigger paychecks

Some well-known leaders who received $ 1 as a paycheck include Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, NR Narayana Murthy, among many others. Interestingly, even Muhammad Ali Jinnah accepted just one rupee as salary when he was appointed as the first Governor General of Pakistan.

# 3. Smell of your flock

In other words: bridging the gap between the boss and the employees by participating in the latter’s routine activities.

One of the best examples of servant leadership might be in the form of CEOs who are more than happy to share employee bathrooms, toilets, and dining rooms like the CEO of my company does. The idea is to break down all kinds of barriers that make them seem separate from their employees.

Servant Leadership: MBWA: Manage by Walking
MBWA: Manage By Walking Around is one of the simplest practices CEOs can adopt

One way to smell like your herd is to take a leaf out of the book from Tesco PLC, a company with operations in Europe, Asia and North America and the UK’s largest grocery seller. Guess what the bosses at Tesco PLC did to smell like their employees? Implemented TWIST – Tesco Week on Store Together.

Shedding light on this program, author Jeffery Krames in his unique leadership book: Leading with Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis, shares that the unique program attracted all front-end executives and managers of distribution departments to focus on traditional store operations for one week, every year. As part of store operations, managers and their direct reports managed all processes, from the back door to the store floor. They also played the role of customer assistant:

  • Receive deliveries
  • Working in the warehouse
  • Work at the customer service desk
  • Even taking night shifts

Such collaborative leadership the style brings the people at the top of the ladder closer to those who do the actual work, not to mention that it helps them get to know customers from the inside out. You can also follow the advice of former CEOs like Bill Hewlett and David Packard, who regularly lead MBWA – Manage By Walking Around. The idea was to have informal conversations with their employees, which, in turn, would help them get a feel for the inner workings of each department.

# 4. Take an inclusive approach

Inclusive leadership takes into account the opinions and perspectives of employees, mitigating their own biases and preferences to ensure informed decision-making. Servant leaders have an inclusive approach and don’t view diverse talent as a downside. In fact, they see it as a competitive advantage that helps them drive the organization’s goals.

Servant Leadership: Taking an Inclusive Approach
Leaders with an ‘inclusive approach’ believe that diverse talent drives the organization’s goals

P&G is a fantastic example of inclusive leadership. Geraldine Huse, P&G Central Europe CEO and Chairman of the Board, believes that the more diverse the team, the more debate and disagreement they have, the better the outcome.

In fact, Salesforce has taken a step forward by launching a module on inclusive leadership called “Trailhead” to help interested professionals hone their skills in this domain. Iliana Quinonez, Director, Solutions Engineering and LatinoForce Leader at Salesforce, He is quite clear in his head what it means to be an inclusive leader, as he clearly states that the responsibility lies with management to create an enabling environment where people can voice their complaints without any fear.

# 5. Choose pragmatism over the status quo

A pragmatist has a pulse in the world and refuses to rest on his laurels. When a company becomes insular and decides to rest on its laurels, it dies from within. Intel is one of the world-renowned brands that chose the status quo over pragmatism and then quickly turned around to prosper. The company was nearing closure when it encountered a critical tipping point for its flagship product, memory chips, from Japanese manufacturers, until it went ahead and launched a new flagship product: microprocessors.

Another example of a brand that chose the status quo over pragmatism was Blackberry. Formerly known as the king of mobile devices, the company is unlikely to regain its lost luster unless it goes pragmatic and ushers in some shifts in the shape of relevant strategies.

A pragmatic leader sees the world as it is and not as they wish to see it. Therefore, they show a willingness to experiment with disruptions, realizing that disruptions are the only way forward for companies in the future. Sitting in product leads, especially in the technology domain, is the perfect recipe for disaster.

# 6. Decentralized decision making

Decentralized decision making occurs when decision-making power is transferred from the hands of top management to middle and lower-level managers and even team members in some cases. With companies spreading their footprints, organizations have found that managers with a pulse on the local environment are better equipped to make the right decisions rather than bosses sitting on ivory towers or in some distant land. In short, decentralized decision making is the need of the moment.

To ensure a smooth decentralized decision-making process, leaders must hire well-trained professionals who are quite capable of handling responsibilities.

Johnson and Johnson, a medical device and diagnostic company known for its bandages and baby oil, follows a decentralized structure. The company prefers local management to run their businesses because they feel they understand the customer better; in addition to being familiar with government and market needs. And in case they make mistakes, the entire organization does not have to face the consequences.

Leaders lead from behind

Authentic leaders win back their employees. They voluntarily sacrifice their special privileges to ensure a better collaborative work environment. Consequently, they are more successful than self-absorbed leaders who tend to spend most of their time inside their heads, divorced from the basic realities and views of employees.

True leaders who are known for rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty are respected and revered in the corporate world. Do you want to hone your leadership skills in the truest sense of the word? Read books or drink some leadership courses. It helps, because not everyone is a born leader.

Image credit Internal article: provided by the author; Thanks!

Top Image Credit: Anna Tarazevich; Pexels; Thanks!

Jennifer warren

Jennifer Warren is a Resident Word Creator @GoodFirms– a review and rating agency that offers a level playing field for mobile app companies of all sizes. She is a deep work connoisseur and addictive reader who believes in the magic of deeply researched posts to drive traffic and conversions for sites. To find out about her latest guest posts, you can check her LinkedIn profile.


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