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What is Servant Leadership?

By: Geno Cutolo, CEO of Staffmark Group

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a LEADER.” – John Quincy Adams

Years ago, a man introduced himself to one of our branch office teams at a job fair. He shared with our team that he was on the verge of being evicted from his apartment and needed to find a job quickly. Luckily, we were able to expedite the screening and hiring process and place him on an assignment just two days later.

Times were tough, however. He did not have a car, so he walked to work every day. Despite this challenge, he always arrived 30 minutes early, and he proved to be a dedicated, hard-working employee. After some time, he was able to save enough money to purchase a car. Soon after, he began driving his co-workers to and from work each day, even on his days off. Over the years, he has driven well over 100 co-workers to and from work – all because he didn’t want anyone else to struggle as he once did.

That is a great example of servant leadership. Does this employee hold a leadership or management role at his workplace? No. Is he a servant leader? Absolutely. This valued employee puts the needs of others before his own, and he is enabling others to achieve their goals.

How to become a servant leader

While the term “servant leadership” is sometimes used to describe CEOs, executives, and managers within a workplace, I believe that anyone can be a servant leader. It has nothing to do with the hierarchy of an organization. Each of us has the power to lead and encourage others.

I love author Ken Blanchard’s perspective on this topic. He says that servant leadership starts with our daily habits and how we begin our day. In an online course on servant leadership, Blanchard noted that we have two selves: our external task-oriented self and our thoughtful reflective self. He said that while the task-oriented self is hyper-focused on getting things done and executing tasks, it is difficult for this self to have a heart of serving others.

Blanchard says that we need to stop rushing out of bed each morning. Instead, take some time to be reflective and set a purpose for the day. He challenges us to begin our day by asking: (1) How do I want to be remembered and (2) what are my values? And then he suggests that we end our day by asking: (1) What did I do today that made me feel good and (2) what do I wish I could do over? I would also add another question to this list: What am I grateful for?

Examining your life at the start and close of the day is a great way intentionally set the tone for your professional and personal life. The iconic Socrates quote reflects this same philosophy: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

The power of gratitude

For me, gratitude is the foundation of servant leadership. Being truly grateful for the people in our lives makes it natural for us to put others’ needs before our own. Living a life of gratitude has had a transformative effect in my life.

At this time of year, I find myself reflecting even more than I usually do. Our year is coming to a close, so we’re closely monitoring our goals and reviewing everything that we have accomplished over the past year. Thanksgiving is also just around the corner, which is a time when all of us should reflect and give thanks. As I’ve taken more time to examine my life, our company, our people, and how we can serve, I find that I am filled with gratitude. And this gratitude fuels me to want to do more and help more people.

I’m so thankful for this industry and our ability to help others, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who are part of Staffmark Group. Our company exists to serve – to serve our talent by helping them find meaningful work and to serve our customers by helping them build a strong workforce. Providing career opportunities is a sacred responsibility, and it’s a privilege to impact the lives of our employees, help them advance their career, and make their lives better. No matter what role you play in this process – whether you are on the serving or receiving end – I appreciate you!

Each of us has the power within to be a servant leader and pour goodness into the lives of others. Whether you are temporary employee, a new hire, a tenured employee, or an executive leader, I encourage you to follow Blanchard’s advice: get into the habit of entering your day slowly and examining your life. Live a life of service and have an attitude for gratitude, and you – and everyone you have served – will have a more fulfilled and successful life.

Happy Thanksgiving!