Servant leadership | How to give your employees more autonomy and choice

How to give your employees more autonomy and choice

Some of us have an innate desire to serve others. And by serve, I don’t mean being ordered around, but rather to be of service; to use one’s time constructively to help and support others.

Typically, such people end up in jobs where they can work tirelessly to improve people’s lives – vocations such as teaching or medicine. But what about leadership positions?

Servant leadership is not a new concept; its roots can be traced back to the 1970s, however with the pandemic forcing leaders to demonstrate empathy, it looks set to have a resurgence.

Who serves who?

In the traditional organisation employees serve their manager. They are there to do what their manager tells them, their manager serves their superior, who in turn serves their superior, and so on.

You’ll notice that in this top-down system, nobody serves the regular employees. Their professional and personal needs go unmet, because there’s nobody there to meet them. As a result, they are unable to grow and develop.

Servant leadership

According to the philosophy of servant leadership, however, the manager’s job is to serve their employees. This approach flips the traditional pyramid hierarchy on its head, putting the needs of employees above all else.

In this bottom-up approach, management becomes less about controlling and monitoring employees’ work, and more about helping and supporting them to be their best. As such, employees are given the freedom and autonomy to take direction of their own work. The leader gives them the tools they need, and then lets them get on with it.

This approach changes our perception of management and leadership, and what it takes to be a good manager or leader.

It also makes us rethink the notion of power – what it means, and how it should be exercised. In an organisation that adopts the servant-leadership model, power is used to empower others – to enrich their lives, meet their needs, and help them realise their potential – not to control or limit them.

Everyone benefits

When leaders become servants first, employees are given the tools they need to grow, and the organisation benefits through an engaged and motivated workforce.

As their managers take an active interest in their development, employees exhibit an increased commitment to the company, resulting in improved turnover rates.

Employees’ mental health also improves, as work becomes more enjoyable. As a result, they are more likely to achieve their goals, whether at a personal or organisational level.

Servant leadership creates an environment of openness, support, and a willingness to help. Interestingly, research has shown that this approach even benefits employees’ private lives, making them less stressed and more likely to be of service to their families – something crucial in today’s environment.

Of course, the success of this approach all boils down to the type of people you have in positions of power – how you select them, what you expect from them, and what their motivations are.

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MHR International Group is a global software and consultancy company specialising in HR, payroll, employee experience, analytics and artificial intelligence services.

Our product portfolio includes iTrent, People First and MHR Analytics. For over 35 years we’ve been helping businesses of all sizes to maximise employee engagement and productivity, generate better insights from their data and improve efficiencies.