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Organizations of all sizes and industries are reimagining work cultures in this relationship economy. It’s all about the people. Consequently, servant leadership quickly is becoming the preferred practice for some of the biggest and best companies in the world.

Executive Summary

Second Article in a Series

In the second installment of a six-part series of articles about servant leadership, Executive Coach Marcel Schwantes continues to delve into the best practices of servant leaders. Such leaders value the people they lead, he says, describing three ways in which they demonstrate this.

In Part 1, Schwantes outlined how great leaders display authenticity—one of the foundations of effective servant leadership, according to the Organizational Leadership Assessment created by Professor Jim Laub.

As we build on the ideas we presented in the first article in this series, and continue to use Dr. Jim Laub’s servant leadership framework for gauging organizational health, we focus on the second thing that great leaders do differently: They value people.

Before we dive in, let’s review the six foundational behaviors of great leaders.

  1. They display authenticity.
  2. They value people (today’s focus).
  3. They develop people.
  4. They build community.
  5. They provide leadership.
  6. They share leadership.

Here are three profound ways great leaders go about valuing their people.

  1. Great leaders trust and believe in the people they lead.

In his book “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen M.R. Covey says that a team with high trust will produce results faster and at lower cost. And most thought leaders are agreeing that sustaining trust among team members starts with leaders who demonstrate a combination of these factors:

  • A commitment to purpose or vision that inspires others to follow.
  • A strong character that does not compromise values.
  • A strong inclination to serve the needs of others before their own.
  • Keeping their word and delivering what they promise.
  • Genuine caring and compassion for their people—looking after their best interests, being receptive and engaging in nonjudgmental listening.
  • Competence and expertise in their chosen field.


Property/casualty insurers that made Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list in 2015 include ACUITY at No. 3, USAA at No. 33 and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., joining the list for the first time at No. 95. See related article, “What Employees Say About Three ‘Great’ P/C Insurers.”

Not surprisingly, insurers and other companies in financial and professional services sectors that made Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list this year are characterized by high levels of trust and transparency—especially employees’ belief in the credibility of their leaders. The research behind what makes those companies get on that list is conducted by the folks at Great Place to Work, who report that 92 percent of employees surveyed at these companies believe that management is transparent in its business practices. (Source: White paper titled “Industry-Specific Strategies of Winning Companies, An Analysis by Great Places to Work,” page 7, available for download on the Great Places to Work website.)

And as new confirmation for servant leadership, the study found that the “Best Companies to Work For” have leaders who, to ensure success, do several things year in, year out that correlate well with leadership trust behaviors:

  • They keep the lines of communication open.
  • They share their vision for the future with employees.
  • They take the pulse of the organization by constantly listening and responding to what they hear so they can serve the needs of their people. Whether it’s sharing quarterly financials or making strategic decisions, they make sure to listen.
  • They offer employees ample opportunities for training and development.
  1. Great leaders show respect for their employees.

Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, wrote a book called “Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others,” in which she tells the story of her leadership journey. When she was named CEO in 2007, profit was in the negative, and the company stock price had taken a nose dive from $34 in 2002 to $13. The brand suffered, and franchise owners were running around with their hair on fire.

By 2014, Popeyes did a 180-degree turn. Sales were up 25 percent, and profits were up 40 percent. Market share had grown from 14 percent to 21 percent, and the stock price was over $40. The franchisees were giddy with the turnaround and began reinvesting in the brand, many remodeling their restaurants and building new ones around the world.

The difference?

Bachelder says that it was a conscious decision to create a new workplace (with rigorous measures in place) where people were treated with respect and dignity yet were challenged to perform at the highest level. Silos were broken, managers began to listen, and self-serving leaders went bye-bye as collaboration increased. Workers were valued.

  1. Great leaders are aware of, and responsive to, the needs of their employees.

impossible metaphor for standing out in the crowd differentiation bad fit cultural misfitGreat leaders show an interest in their people’s jobs and career aspirations. They look into the future to create learning and development opportunities. They find out what motivates their best people by getting to know what desires will drive each tribe member. This is about emotional engagement.

Let’s suppose you manage the web development function of your insurance carrier. Take three developers on your project team: One may come to work every day just to fill a financial need for the family; another to fulfill a deep need to design software to serve the needs of her carrier community; and another may eat, drink and sleep user design interface to understand how it will work holistically for both end users and stakeholders.

Knowing what makes each one of them get up in the morning can help you develop tasks and provide incentives they will actually care about. And make sure that it plays to their individual strengths to keep them engaged and learning on the job.

Let’s end with a question to think about: In what meaningful and sustainable ways have you valued your people at work?

Read also, Part 3 in our series: Developing People: It Matters to Great Leaders

Webinar Scheduled

On September 8, 2015 at 1:30 p.m. EST, Executive Coach Marcel Schwantes will host a related webinar for Carrier Management readers titled “Six Servant Leadership Practices That Drive Performance and Increase Your Bottom Line.” Topics on the webinar agenda include: “The Secrets to Getting Your Employees to Happily Go the Extra Mile” and “How to Treat Your People So They Don’t Jump Ship.”

To sign up for the webinar, go to

More Information Available Online

In Part 1 of this six-part article series, “How Great Leaders Display Authenticity, Schwantes reviewed one of the foundations of effective servant leadership: authenticity.

These additional articles and podcast interviews provide background information about servant leadership:

Topics Leadership