How to Lead by Learning How to Serve

Posted on: May 15th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

A new study published in Academy of Management Journal has found that bosses who put their employees’ needs over their own create a culture of high performance. Basically bosses who are prepared to self-sacrifice in order to make sure their staff are happy lead teams that deliver on customer satisfaction, higher job performance and lower staff turnover, according to the study by the University of Illinois in Chicago.

You know that for many years I was a pastor in a church. A fundamental of Christianity is serving others, but I always find it interesting when tested psychological studies reinforce basic teachings of many religions – be prepared to serve others, even if it sometimes comes at your expense. At the last supper Christ washed the disciples’ feet. He was basically teaching the team that if you are the leader sometimes you have to do the jobs no one else wants – you need to look after your team. Remember what is written in the Bible, Matthew 20:16 “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” It means if you want to be a true leader you at times will need to put yourself last.

Employees need to feel valued

This latest study found that when employees feel valued, in return give back to the company and its customers and it’s up to the bosses to create a culture of trust, caring, cooperation, fairness and empathy. 

According to one of the key researchers, Professor Sandy Wayne, most bosses just give commands and orders to staff, but instead they would be better off looking at how they can support their team.

“A servant leader looks and sounds a lot more like, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?' Or, ‘Let me help you….' Or, ‘What do you need to…?' This approach helps employees reach their full potential,” Prof Wayne said.

People know when they are respected

People always notice when someone is looking out for them and caring for them and they respond by offering loyalty and dedication to the business and its customers. Prof Wayne says this style of leadership flows through the whole team. 

“It's contagious. The employees see their leaders as role models and often mimic those qualities, creating a culture of servant leadership,” Prof Wayne said. “This serving culture drives the effectiveness of the business as a whole.”

The study was conducted by setting up management experiments at the American Jason's Deli national restaurant chain.

The study included 961 employees at 71 Jason's Deli restaurants in ten cities. Some of the restaurants adopted servant management, some didn’t.

The findings were based on data from surveys completed by managers, employees, and customers, and data from corporate records. 

Chairman and founder of Jason's Deli, Joe Tortorice has been very impressed with the new servant leadership style.

“The University of Illinois at Chicago research project on Servant Leadership has provided a remarkable insight into the myriad of opportunities to enhance our greatest asset – our culture,” he said. “The professional interpretation of the data has educated and inspired our executive team.”

Measurable gains when bosses serve staff

Prof Wayne said the restaurants with servant leaders experienced many positive outcomes for staff, including 6 percent higher job performance, 8 percent more customer service behaviours and 50 percent less likely to leave the company.

Wow, if your boss serves you and looks after your needs the likelihood of you leaving is halved! So often work is not about the money, but about being happy.

The study suggests that if businesses lead by caring for their staff, the profits will take care of themselves.

To summarise when managers meet their employees’ needs, businesses gain improved customer happiness, increased job performance from staff members and lower turnover.

“This approach helps employees reach their full potential,” Prof Wayne said.

People admire servant leaders

The admiration employees have for supervisors who have this type of leadership style results in business growth.

“There is some clear evidence that servant leadership isn't just a nice thing to do, but it actually can impact the profitability of an organisation,” Prof Wayne said.

Few bosses get management training

And yet, how many bosses in Australia and around the world actually actively try to look after their staff? How often have you heard your friends and family complain about their managers? Another study by found that 58 percent of managers didn’t receive any management training. Most managers are promoted because they are good at what they do, and not good at managing or looking after people. In a nutshell, most leaders don’t know how to lead. 

A Gallup poll of more than one million employed American workers found that the number one reason people quit their jobs is because of a bad boss or immediate supervisor. 75 per cent of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their bosses and not the position itself. People leave managers not companies so turnover is mostly a manager issue.

Bosses don’t realise they are the problem

Few bosses realise that they are the problem. Leigh Branham, author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave revealed that 89 per cent of bosses believe employees quit because they want more money. Only 12 per cent of employees leave for more money, while most evacuate because they are over their managers!

I do not have any solutions to this problem. If you are dealing with a difficult boss, hang in there and know that you are not alone. Millions of other people around the world are in the same situation as you.

Now some advice for bosses. Bosses please remember your staff are humans with their own lives, their own problems and their own needs. You are managing people, not machines or robots or a statistic on a graph. Get to know your people. Go to lunch with them, learn about their family and their hobbies, their likes and dislikes and their passions. They may have hidden skills that can help the team. Meet them where they are and be flexible in meeting their needs. You can't buy loyalty but you can earn it. If you want loyal employees, who will work hard and serve the business then treat your people as people!


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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