Looking to strengthen your team at work, both in productivity and camaraderie? Chances are you’ve tried the Friday morning doughnut run, Bring Your Pet to Work Day, and even employee teamwork retreats—and yet that unique bond among your employees just isn’t there. But here’s an idea that’s likely to be the best investment you could ever make: Servant leadership, in which a company and employees join together in providing hands-on service to create a better community and world.
Servant leadership is not without its costs.
In our own company, we dedicate a day of service to our community every year for a major project to help children, communities, and groups such as Native Americans, veterans, and single moms. Our project costs of having our employees out of the office is 150 to 200 thousand dollars, not to mention the planning and preparation months before this special day. But the passion this creates and the bond it instills in a company makes it one of the best ROI decisions you could possibly make. Make this your first and highest strategic endeavor, even if your company is still a one-person, “Me, Inc.”
You might be saying, “There’s no way we can do this right now . . . maybe later.” But before you conclude that Fishbowl is crazy and move on to schedule your next team excursion, think about this:
Coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, founder of the Greenleaf Institute for Servant Leadership, the concept of servant leadership defines a leader who is, very literally, a servant first. “Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring world,” states the Greenleaf Institute for Servant Leadership.
I believe that everyone in my company is a leader, and leading through service is something we wholeheartedly embrace in our workplace culture. We believe that we become stronger, more effective leaders when we learn how to serve both our employees and the community around us.
Since 2009, we’ve accomplished eight of these major service projects with the Fishbowl community. As a company, we restored a beautiful mountain amphitheater; cleaned up streams and ponds in a nearby natural water park; played games and wrote down personal stories of veterans at a veteran’s home; painted interiors and exteriors of a local high school and network of Head Start preschools; and helped update and organize the libraries of two elementary schools.
With dozens of employees, family members, and friends participating each year, these service projects are a great opportunity for employees to get out from behind their desks, improve the community around them, and make some fun memories as they are given chances to serve one another. Everyone who participates agrees that the difference they make on that one day is empowering, building their desire to serve their coworkers as they return to the office the next day.
We do these projects without an expectation of monetary return, but the benefits we receive are profound. Based on our experience, here are three ways we—and by extension, your company, too—can experience the benefits of servant leadership.
Be an example of what a servant leader should be. Before you expect your employees to fully embrace servant leadership, you must demonstrate the concept within your own day-to-day office management.
“The key to motivating employees is the focus a servant leader places on the welfare and growth of everyone in the organization. The motivating factor is that the servant leader pursue every opportunity to positively impact the behaviors of employees first—making a difference in their lives,” said David McCuistion in his article 9 Ways to Motivate People Using Servant Leadership. “This is a ‘natural calling’ of servant leadership, which is never for personal gain, but a sacrifice for the sake of others and their personal and professional growth.”
Some ways to set the example of a servant leader, according to leadership blogger Skip Prichard, include inviting differing opinions, establishing a culture of trust, developing other leaders, helping employees with life issues, building confidence through encouragement, thinking first about employees, and acting with humility.
Build a team of servant leaders.
By creating an office culture of service, you will begin building a strong team of servant leaders. Nothing screams camaraderie like uniting a diverse group of people to work toward a common goal. Encourage each employee to embrace a culture of service throughout their workday.
“Servant leaders know that by helping to guide the people who work for