Implement Servant Leadership in Your Small Business

November 4, 2020 | Roger and Susie Engelau

We can help you implement servant leadership in your small business. One of the services we at Inspire Results provide is to modify content and tools generally written for large corporations and make it useful for small business owners.

This month we’re defining how to implement servant leadership in your small business. The good news is that you can implement it faster in a small business than in a large corporation. The bad news is that it all rests on the shoulders of the small business owner.

But the quicker you develop your own servant leader competencies, the sooner you can begin to involve your key team members in the implementation of servant leadership. Ultimately, you want it embedded in your company’s operations and culture. However, before you implement servant leadership in your small business, you want to start with your own servant leadership competencies.

By the way, a note about why we wholeheartedly believe servant leadership is the best leadership. It’s the right thing to do. People are inspired by it. It creates accountability, energy, and trust. And your company profits. Since the time the father of servant leadership, Robert Greenleaf, founded it in 1970, the proof abounds that servant leadership produces superior financial results!

While there are a few among us who are “natural servant leaders,” anyone who wants to be a servant leader can be.

How to Implement Servant Leadership in Your Small Business

To start, complete our Servant Leader Competency Assessment.  In their book Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, James W. Sipe and Don M. Frick took Greenleaf’s abundant works and formulated the following 21 concrete, observable Servant Leadership Seven Pillarscompetencies. We think these competencies really get at the heart of servant leadership in your small business.

We then took those 21 competencies (3 per each of the 7 pillars) and created a scorable assessment.  You can complete our Servant Leader Competency Assessment for Small Business here. You’ll find it enlightening.

Once you complete your assessment, reflect on your strengths. Then choose 3-5 areas you desire most to change. For each of those:

  1.  Determine where you can get additional information and read up. (Sipe and Frick’s book is a good start—they offer a thorough description of each competency and how to develop it).
  2.  Identify opportunities for practice and then, do lots of practice.
  3.  Ask for feedback.

Implementing Servant Leadership in Your Small Business

Now that you’ve begun work on your own servant leadership competencies, you can begin implementing it throughout your small business. Frick and Sipe say that every successful effort to implement servant leadership begins with small group conversations. The same can be true for implementing servant leadership in your small business.

  1. Start by forming a discussion group of 3-7 of your key leaders. You can bring other key people into the group as you see fit. Set a regular meeting or embed it in one of the meetings in your current meeting rhythm schedule.

Begin with a general discussion about the competency using the questions below. The questions provide structure to facilitate your group in wrestling with how your organization does or does not live the competency. They’ll also point out what you can do to embed the competency into your day-to-day activities:

A.  Discovery – Are we moving in the direction of becoming a servant-led company? Where do we do it well? Not so well?

B. Desire and incentives to change – Are we willing to invest the effort to change our culture? What are the payoffs? Consequences for not doing it?

C. Learning — What resources can we tap to learn more about the change? How can we learn from colleagues who already practice servant leadership?

D. Practice – What opportunities can we identify to begin trying out new servant leader behaviors right now? Will our current culture reward the practice of servant leadership?

E. Feedback and evaluation – How will we hold ourselves accountable? Are we willing to ask for feedback?

In the last chapter of their book, Frick and Sipe provide more competency-specific questions that your group can use.

  1. Next, get specific. Examine the competency within each area of your business. Use our SERVANT model to insure you scrutinize each competency in every area of your small business. Ask yourselves, “How does this competency manifest or not in…
    • Sales & Marketing?
    • Executive Leadership?
    • Relationships?
    • Vision & Planning?
    • Accounting & Finance?
    • iNternal Processes?
    • Team?
  1. For each competency, generate a list of things your team will Start, Stop, or Continue in order that each competency takes a foothold and is ultimately able to flourish. It could take several meetings to fully address each competency. As you conduct your small group discussions, it’s helpful to think of them as hammers and chisels. You’re slowly chipping away at the barriers to a servant-led culture.
  2. Spin off other discussion groups as you move through the organization so that every team member has a chance to participate.
  3. As a parallel effort, each of your key leaders should complete the Servant Leader Competency Assessment for Small Business and set their individual improvement goals.

    Within a few months of beginning to implement servant leadership in your small business, you should begin to see results in your culture, operations, and profit. You’ll also have peace of mind you’ll have knowing that you’re doing the right thing for your team members, your business, and your community.