By Kevin Daum
The idea of servant leadership is buzzing through the business zeitgeist. But what’s it all about, and does it actually work?
There’s been a lot of discussion in the business world about “servant leadership.” First of all, with all the different definitions floating around, what does it really mean? And once you’ve established what it is, is it good or bad? I once worked with a company where the CEO was an entrepreneur and visionary, and his right hand man thought of himself as a servant leader. The problem was that this servant leader didn’t actually drive the action to achieve the CEO’s vision. After that experience, I had to wonder whether servant leadership was the best way to move a company forward.
YPO member Randy Pekowski believes servant leadership has taken his company to the next level, and believes it can do the same for yours. Pekowski is the President and COO of The Expo Group, which designs and executes compelling and memorable trade shows, events, and exhibits. He holds a B.B.A. from Texas A&M University, and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s OPM Program. Pekowski has found servant leadership to be a useful structure, and has established it as a key culture point within the company.
Pekowski describes servant leadership this way: “Today’s servant-lead companies go beyond a company’s vision by creating a higher purpose for its clients and employees. CEOs can enhance that vision by defining a greater purpose, but that greater purpose must also include delivering an outstanding performance.” Here is Pekowski’s advice on how and why you should consider servant leadership in your company:
1. Put Others First
In its simplest terms, “Servant leadership is simply about serving others by putting their needs ahead of your own,” describes Pekowski. Included in those “others” are both clients and employees. There are many different forms this can take. For example, “The Expo Group places a greater purpose at its core, one of serving others from a faith-friendly environment,” shares Pekowski. He continues, “The corporate value system of believing in a higher power creates that greater purpose that is needed for a servant-led system.” There are also a variety of ways a company can achieve its goal of putting other first. “Profit sharing across all levels of the company, not just for key executives, is one way this is achieved at The Expo Group,” Pekowski says.
2. Inspire Others
Pekowski advises companies to be open about their decision to run a company with servant leadership. He suggests, “Talk about the leadership style. Make it evident within the company and with our trade show and event clients.” Of course, your words need to be backed up with action. “It is vital for the executive team to model expected behavior,” Pekowski asserts. He believes that when other see servant leadership in action, it will inspire them to adopt it in their own companies, too.
3. Build Trust
Servant leadership can’t work without strong trust among leadership, employees, and clients. Putting on trade shows and other large-scale events can be an exhausting whirlwind. So within The Expo Group, Pekowski credits servant leadership with “creating a dynamic that’s always positive, despite the quick turns and fast movements of events and trade shows.” That’s no easy task, with so many moving parts and inevitable last-minute changes. He also believes it has made an impactful difference in their relationships with clients. He explains, “Our ‘Others First’ mindset has led to higher levels of trust and empathy with clients to smooth out the friction points that come with collaboration.” One of the best ways to create repeat customers is to demonstrate that you are trustworthy and willing to work cooperatively.
4. Perform, With Purpose
Pekowski is adamant that servant leadership creates a company with a powerful culture and financial success. “Performance with a purpose doesn’t have to come at cost of profits and doesn’t have to slow things down,” he says. In fact, for The Expo Group, it’s inspired employees to work harder and faster. “Our focus on a higher purpose has led to unprecedented growth for the company, fed by satisfied employees who want to be here and want to provide higher levels of service to customers.” In fact, he continues, “It has led to advantageous client acquisition ratios that speed the pace of business.”
5. Hire Good Fits
It is important that companies identify and hire candidates that will fit with the culture. Pekowski says, “Hiring practices must reflect the mission and servant leadership needs.” The Expo Group pays extra attention when they know that the candidate will be supervising others. “Managers especially are taken through several interviews with future colleagues for determination of fit in a servant-led culture,” Pekowski says. This process doesn’t pay dividends just for the company. Pekowski shares, “The servant leadership style creates more trust among employees, clients, prospects and vendors. That trust leads to high employee retention and satisfaction.”
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