The single most important management theory you don’t know a lot about! 

Management theories have evolved significantly over the past century, with new approaches continuously emerging to meet the changing needs of organisations. However, one seminal theory stands out as perhaps the most universally applicable and impactful – the concept of servant leadership. 

First described by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s, servant leadership flips the typical hierarchical structure upside down. Instead of managers commanding and controlling their employees, leaders focus on supporting and empowering them. The core tenet is that leaders should be motivated by a sincere desire to serve their teams and help them grow.  

Several key principles characterise servant leadership:

  • Listening – Servant leaders prioritise understanding employees’ needs before setting strategy. This requires deep listening skills.
  • Empathy – Leaders aim to care for the personal and professional well-being of every team member. 
  • Foresight – A servant leader thinks long-term, envisioning outcomes that will benefit all stakeholders.
  • Stewardship – Servant leaders take responsibility for the larger organisation and community, not just themselves. 
  • Commitment to growth – Nurturing employees’ knowledge and skills is a top priority.
  • Building community – Servant leaders cultivate connection, collaboration and a sense of shared values.

The benefits of servant leadership are substantial. Research shows that it boosts employee satisfaction, engagement, creativity and commitment to the organisation. It also encourages ethical and socially responsible behaviour across all levels. 

For these reasons, servant leadership is widely adaptable. It can be applied by leaders in business, politics, education, nonprofits and beyond. Its emphasis on people over profits renders it effective in any setting that involves coordinating humans.

Of all the management philosophies debated today, servant leadership stands apart in its simplicity and universality. By putting people first, leaders unleash incredible potential in their teams and organisations. This ageless concept will continue guiding managers far into the future.