Servant Leadership as a Management Model


Putting your employees' needs before your own can be the secret to effective workplace management.

I recently read The Go-Giver.1 This book was given to me by one of my previous residents and is described in its subtitle as “a little story about a powerful business idea.” It tells the fable of a businessman named Joe who is struggling to meet his sales quota and the successful individuals that he meets through his mentor. Each of these people describes one of “The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success” that they have used to achieve their own success. Joe then sets out to apply each of these principles to his own career.

Four of the laws focus on looking to the interests of others before attending to your own personal needs. The authors suggest that your individual worth, income, and influence is determined by how much you give to and serve others, through placing their interests above your own desires.

I am curious whether you agree with the authors that giving of yourself to others before attending to your individual needs is a route to success in the business world. Or, does your experience suggest something different?

I remember when I was first given supervisory responsibilities. I was very naïve and insecure, and had little training for the position. I thought that if I worked hard enough, spent time with all of my employees, showed each of them how much I cared, and tried to make things work well, I would be recognized as the best manager they ever had and the area would operate at peak efficiency. As a result of this, I expected I would be showered with gifts on Christmas and Boss’s Day, I would be invited to my employees’ weddings and parties, all problems in the work area would be resolved, and my employees would work well together.

As you can probably guess, none of that happened. We still had communication problems with employees, operational issues did not resolve on their own, and employee satisfaction and morale were tenuous. This was not what I had expected at all.

After years of leading teams and people, I have learned a few things along the way:

  • Employees want to be listened to and have their opinions heard, and they deserve that from their manager.
  • Issues that may seem small and insignificant from the supervisor’s perspective can constitute major issues from the employee’s perspective.
  • No matter how busy they are, managers should always take the time to say hello to an employee, ask how they are doing, and meet with them when they have something to discuss.

In reality, one of a manager’s major responsibilities is to help ensure that employees can successfully carry out their responsibilities. In essence, this is the heart of servant leadership and the basis of many of the “Laws of Stratospheric Success” described in The Go-Giver.1 Over time, I learned that as a manager, I was there to work for my employees and provide them with the tools they needed for success, not the other way around.

Once I recognized this, my employees noticed a change. The workplace grew much calmer, people felt comfortable talking to me about issues that were important to them, and employees developed the habit of discussing their problems with each other before bringing them to me. I still might not get Christmas gifts from my employees or cards on Boss’s Day, but I have come to recognize that this is not the marker of a servant leader, nor should it be the basis for judging one’s success as a manager. Instead, success is having employees who trust you, work hard, know you will respond to their requests, and compliment you on being one of the best managers they have ever had.

May we all work hard at striving to be known as a servant leader: to our employees, and most important, to the patients whom we are all there to serve. I would appreciate hearing from you on whether you agree with this perspective and whether you have had experiences with supervisors or managers who exemplify the ideal of servant leadership.

1. Burg B and Mann JD. The go-giver: a little story about a powerful business idea. London: Penguin Books; 2007.

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