“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“– Robert K. Greenleaf

What is servant leadership really about?

In short: Servant leadership or serving community is about a selfless attitude and a desire to serve. Servant leadership is about creating the conditions for success and growth.

Organizations and individuals have development potential, in best cases recognizing this potential is a joint project of the supervisor and the employee, the goal and purpose is to combine the growth of both the individual and the organization. How?

The principles of servant leadership provide ways to make growth possible. As the individual grows, so does the company. At the same time, the organization’s values and ways of interaction become concretely open, more respectful and the atmosphere will turn more open and acceptable in terms of workload control. That leads to better psychological safety, well-being at work, increased job satisfaction and reduction of sickness absences.
Research related to servant leadership has been done (and still ongoing) all over the world, scientific research is rising slowly also in Finland. However, there have been more and more non-academic references to the topic in the public eye. As my personal opinion servant leadership as a philosophy or theory it is not that usable in real working life. It gives the answers to question what, but no answers to question how. Now, this productization by Headactive is about how.

Since 2014, I have been working on servant leadership. My final thesis in psychology (Perceived servant leadership, job absorption and burnout – longitudinal study) convinced me and it seems that servant leadership will stay with me forever.

Over the years, servant leadership has brightened significantly for me. The most significant insight has been understanding the goal of supervisor or the management work: to create conditions. Create the conditions to succeed and grow. Creating the conditions starts with individuals and moves to the community, a common growth story is born. And the tools for doing that are right here.

How has Greenleaf’s philosophy been refined into concrete?

In my own thinking about servant leadership and its productization I am particularly drawn to the interpretations of servant leadership by Greenleaf (1977), Spears (1995, 2010), Dierendonck (2011) and Laub (2018). Greenleaf emphasized renunciation of selfishness as a characteristic of service leadership. Spears’ interpretation of the ten qualities of a servant leader as central features of the ideology of servant leadership. Dierendonck concretized the thinking of Greenleaf and Spears and created a leadership theory. As leadership theory it serves as a management theory, one genuinely acts for the employees and acts on the principle of equality on the basis of social responsibility. The individual and the balance of the individual are more important than the organization. Laub concretizes servant leadership by studying servant leadership researchers and professionals and summarizing these interpretations to servant leadership principles.In Laub’s studies, the emphasis is more on concreteness and community characteristics than before. In this interpretation, the whole of servant leadership is the characteristics of both the individual and the work community.
My work as an occupational health psychologist led servant leadership theories closer to practice, there is now answers to question how. Now I strongly feel that servant leadership is modified to be suitable both individuals and organizations.
Kari Matilainen
Serving psychologist, promoter of occupational well-being.
About the author and the owner of the Headactive Oy: In my previous working life, I worked as an educational scientist in the world of mobile communications from 1997-2013. I did e.g. user experience, product management, front-line work etc. I was able to work in Finland, United States, as well as in Sweden and France. The instability of the telecom industry started the change, I lost the meaning of work and that led me to a turning point in my working life. I wanted a change, I knew what I wanted and I studied a new profession (licensed psychologist, 2015 JYU).
“I became a psychologist through working life. This real working experience strongly influences my work as a psychologist”.