Servant Leadership & Giving Away the Farm


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I think one of the most important conversations around leadership is the realization that effective leadership is “servant leadership.” Servant leadership means that a leader's role is to support their team. The team is not there working towards the leader's success, it is 100% the other way around. Great leaders take ownership of the fact that if anyone on their team fails in any way, then that failure belongs to the leader first and foremost.

Your employees and your team are not pawns to push around a chessboard or simply subordinates to boss around. It's so important to adopt a mindset of an inverted pyramid when it comes to your people. It is not all the employees as a base, lifting and holding up the executives and leadership of an organization — it is the opposite. Your people are the ones on the front line executing the business plan, interacting with clients, and making the company successful. Leadership must see themselves as there to support their people.

Your people are the ones on the front line executing the business plan and making the company successful. Leadership must see themselves as there to support their people.

The idea of servant leadership is as old as commerce itself, including being a major theme in Sun Tzu’s classic “The Art of War,” written 2500 years ago.

The modern idea was coined by Robert Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader” when he wrote: “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid,’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Get obsessed with employee experience

Organizations that have shown up obsessed with customer experience are winning in the marketplace. If you want to win when it comes to employees it’s going to take being obsessed with employee experience. When I say “win when it comes to employees” I mean very specifically things like attracting top talent, team performance, retention, engagement, and the loyalty and work ethic of your people.

It's such a simple concept: If you are obsessed with your employee experience, meaning you are focused on exceptional culture, pay people well, treat them like you care about them as humans, provide them with quality leaders and coworkers, etc. then people will not only show up for you, they will kick ass for you.

Let’s be real. Why would an exceptional employee — one with a great attitude, who’s smart and talented, who works hard and gets along with coworkers, who is emotionally intelligent and brings a ton of value to their role — work for you if you are still rocking an old-school, command-and-control style leadership where you have inflexible work schedules, deny reasonable time-off requests, and pay them the absolute least you can get away with? Why would they ever come work for you, or stay once they get there? I’ll save you any suspense here; they won’t.

This old-school style of treating people like garbage and that they’re lucky to work for your company is bullshit, it doesn’t float anymore.

Millennials and Generation Z are not entitled, They are the messengers bringing a message that you don't want to hear: The old-school style of treating people like garbage and that they're lucky to work for your company is bullshit, it doesn't float anymore. Companies that are winning when it comes to people are already wide awake to this fact.

According to a recent poll of 5,000 Gen Z’ers, they want to engage one-on-one with their organizational leaders. Creating a culture with an effective mentorship and guidance strategy can be a beneficial approach to keeping them engaged. Another survey of 4,000 Gen Z’ers revealed positive relationships at work as one of their top priorities in a new job. There is plenty of data out there about what potential employees want, so start asking, listening, and get focused on giving it to them if you want to attract and keep them.

Giving away the farm

Often, there's pushback on this topic because I’m saying “yes, give people the farm” when it comes to benefits and employee experience. It can feel extreme like we’re giving people too much. “We’re giving them all this stuff; we pay them well; we give them premium benefits.” Yes, do that. Give people the farm, but also — expect the world out of them. That’s the trade-off. When you’re obsessed with your employee’s experience, you earn the right and the credibility to ask more of them. You can't have mediocre leadership, mediocre pay, and a mediocre culture, and also expect the world out of people. You get what you give, and when you give a lot you earn the right to ask a lot.

You get what you give, and when you give a lot you earn the right to ask a lot.

An important factor to creating exceptional employee experience and culture is also making sure that your people aren’t surrounded by terrible coworkers. Create a high bar with high expectations and be committed to hiring and keeping only great people. Do not “give away the farm” to mediocre people who aren’t deserving of it, get rid of those people. Hire and keep exceptional people, treat them well and prioritize their experience. That's the recipe for high-caliber teams that work.

Ruin your people for other companies

Lastly, I think that you should have the goal as a leader to ruin your employees for other companies. Take such good care of your people that if another company attempted to recruit one of your people away from you, they would be unsuccessful because your employee loves their leadership, the people around them, their culture, their pay, and how they're treated. Make that your priority and intention and watch the difference it’ll make in the way your people show up. When you treat people like they are just an expense, they show up like it's just a paycheck.


This article was created by keynote speaker Galen Emanuele for the #shiftyestribe. Free leadership and team culture content centered on a new focus every month. Check out the rest of this month's content and subscribe to the Shift Yes Tribe at