Traditionally, command-and-control have been considered the key to effective leadership. Today though, in an age of technology and digital disruption, leadership extends to serving others. So, what exactly is servant leadership? We explore five attributes of servant leadership that are particularly valuable for those in IT leadership roles.


Servant leaders serve others, not self

One of the defining characteristics of servant leadership is that rather than trying to win personal accolades, leaders act with humility. It turns the traditional paradigm of leadership based on power, status and wealth on its head. Servant leaders seek higher outcomes by focusing on the needs of others before their own. According to the Journal of Virtues & Leadership, servant leadership is a way of being in a relationship with others. “Servant leadership seeks to involve others in decision making, is strongly based in ethical and caring behaviour, and enhances the growth of workers.” 

IT is a service-based industry. So naturally, technology leaders are required to build strong relationships with customers and internal stakeholders to manage continually changing business needs. As technology continues to evolve at a break-neck speed, IT leaders who adopt servant leadership behaviours are in a better position to gauge their environment. By investing in building relationships and taking the humble road to leadership, IT professionals can foster trust and respect. This makes tackling challenges and delivering bottom-line results simpler. After all, in a competitive economy, it’s easier to get results with honey than vinegar. 


Servant leaders empower others to grow

Organisational success doesn’t happen because of the actions of one person – it takes a group effort for companies to operate at peak performance.

Servant leaders realise this and drive greater workplace productivity by facilitating opportunities for all staff to develop their skills. The Center For Servant Leadership explains that “the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

IT leaders who adopt servant leadership recognise that continued professional development is vital for all IT professionals. It’s important, not only to achieve one’s own full potential but to keep up with the acceleration of digital transformation. Deloitte’s 2019 Technology Industry Outlook, for instance, states that over the last year, “two new and highly strategic factors appear to be driving the rapid growth of service-based IT: increased business agility and ‘democratisation’ of innovation.” Servant leaders in IT make it their mission to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and ensure that no one in their organisation gets left behind.

IT leaders who embrace servant leadership prepare for transformation by investing in their people and empowering them with all the support, knowledge, skills and resources they need to do their jobs. By taking this approach the entire organisation benefits – studies show servant leadership leads to increases in job performance and satisfaction.


Servant leaders make room for failure

Failure is inevitable. But like two sides of a coin, failure and success are yin and yang, and one doesn’t exist without the other. Author C.S. Lewis once famously quipped, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” Servant leaders recognise this dichotomy and allow their team to take calculated risks and learn from stumbling blocks. It’s a mindset that builds a culture of innovation and encourages staff to share and try new ideas and approaches. This has been documented in a study of 154 teams which found that servant leadership “fosters employee creativity and innovation.”

By definition, IT leaders are required to be innovative and take acceptable risks to stay one step ahead of their competition. After all, in an industry that’s continually evolving, if you’re not failing, you’re not learning. By applying servant leadership, which boosts intrinsic motivation in staff, IT professionals can enhance workplace creativity and original thinking. This keeps operations, products and services fresh. Otherwise, the company that fails to innovate is on the road to obsolescence.



Servant leaders build a flatter company culture

The servant leadership model replaces the traditional hierarchical pyramid of top-down authority with a flatter structure. This means leaders exist to support staff to do their best work. By creating a workplace culture and organisational values based on serving others, servant leaders foster collaboration and a shared sense of purpose. These leaders also delegate power, so their team can make key decisions to achieve organisational goals.

There are a number of successful organisations that have dropped the traditional organisational chart and now operate as servant leadership cultures – including Starbucks and  UPS. The Delta Airlines success story demonstrates the ripple effect of servant leadership. It shows that, “If you can get employees to appreciate and feel motivated by your approach to business – and, by extension, to them – they just might offer customers something a little superior.”

In the world of technology, the current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is a prime example of how a servant leadership culture can turn the fortunes of a company around. By focusing on customers and his team of employees, the Microsoft leader now runs a company that is more valuable than Apple. The technology chief argues that “what people have to own is an innovation agenda, and everything is shared in terms of the implementation.”


Servant leaders value diverse opinions

Diversity is crucial for innovation.

At the most basic level, a diverse workforce represents a more diverse set of skills. According to the Harvard Business Review, diversity – whether it’s traits you were born with or acquired – unlocks innovation by “creating an environment where ‘outside the box’ ideas are heard.” And there are now plenty of studies that show why having a diverse workforce makes good financial sense.

Servant leaders make it their priority to seek out a wide range of opinions. They believe in the old expression, “Everyone is an expert within five feet of their workstation.” These leaders want to hear different points of view and listen to staff feedback. By sitting down with their team from all levels of the organisation, servant leaders can assess what’s working well and what isn’t. Servant leaders leverage the power of diverse opinions by creating a shared company vision. 

While diversity in the technology space has a long way to go to inoculate some damning statistics, IT leaders who apply servant leadership are better positioned to tackle upcoming challenges. Their ability to listen, hear and act on staff views creates opportunities for new ways to problem-solve. In the fast-moving world of technology, IT professionals need the ability to look to the future to develop solutions for tomorrow’s trials and tribulations. In this environment, servant leaders in IT recognise that it’s more effective to have partnerships with staff, rather than acting as a lone wolf.


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