10 Servant Leadership Examples From Small Businesses

By Terkel

small business owners who are servant leaders

What is a good example of servant leadership?

There are several ways people can show servant leadership, so we asked business leaders and entrepreneurs this question for their best examples. From investing in your people to backing your words with action, there are several ways that may help you show servant leadership within your business.

Here are ten good examples of servant leadership:

1. Give Back Through Meaningful Methods

As a GCU alumna, I took a deep dive into learning about servant leadership throughout my courses and was pleasantly surprised by the real-life examples I was able to tie back to my education of the topic. In school, I learned about the well-known brands that embody this leadership method, such as Southwest Airlines and Starbucks, but I quickly realized how fortunate I was to actually work for—and with—companies that embody servant leadership. Ryan and our senior living development partners—big and small companies—display the principles of servant leadership in many ways. A few examples include veteran programs which help eligible seniors receive benefits, internship opportunities, scholarship offerings, public art installations and various community service efforts throughout the year. Not only are our operating partners managing the day-to-day of residents’ livelihoods, but they are also giving back significantly through various, meaningful methods.

– Ashley Black, Ryan Companies US, Inc.

2. Focus on Growth and Well-Being

Being in an industry where service is our top priority, I take servant leadership very seriously. A servant leader focuses first on the growth and well-being of their employees as a means of achieving success. We empower our adoption specialists to do their job—and do it well—so the birth mothers and adoptive families they work for can feel love and compassion radiate out from them. If we expect our employees to put their heart and soul into their work, our company needs to put its heart and soul into its employees! This creates happier families, better retention and a happy working environment for everyone involved.

– Kenna Hamm, Texas Adoption Center

3. Investing in Your People

If you want your team to grow, you’ve got to invest in people! A great way to exemplify servant leadership is to focus on the people you work with and work for and commit to their growth. The heart of our company philosophy is matching great candidates with great companies. We look to enhance organizational cultures and create well-rounded teams. Keeping that principle, we take pride in our work, our clients and our candidates—striving to achieve servant leadership in everything that we do.

– Jon Schneider, Recruiterie

4. Balancing Individual and Organization Goals

Servant leadership is important for successful organizations that value people first. Like I always say, people before profit! Organizations that exhibit servant leadership consider personal goals along with their company goals. Work-life balance often plays a significant role in this. People have lives and obligations outside of work, and they appreciate it when their leadership teams consider those things. In doing so, great servant leadership organizations develop trusting relationships that motivate their people to achieve the company’s vision for the long term.

– Denise Gredler, BestCompaniesAZ

5. Removing Obstacles in Workflows

One of my favorite mentors used to tell me that great leaders help teams move faster and more efficiently. They look out for potential roadblocks and remove obstacles along the way. This has guided my thirst for process improvement strategies and knowing how to look out for my team at every bend. Adopting my “working for them” position helps me listen to their challenges, find new ways to help, and boost them up whenever possible. This helps me stay in the servant’s seat.

– Jenn Christie, Markitors

6. Listening Actively and Being Present

A servant leader is present for their teams and actively listens to what is being said, asking questions to understand both the motivators and the feelings of those around them on the team. More importantly, they take time to observe and notice unspoken cues throughout the day and week and then act upon them as needed. Being focused both on the professional and personal success and well-being of each team member first and foremost, the servant leader doesn't simply ask how are you; rather, they sit down for conversations to uncover how things are progressing and what they can do to remove obstacles. They remember the names of family members, rejoice in happy times and empathize when things have hit a rough patch. Ultimately, the servant leader is committed to being a good human always and shares their heart with their team.

– Nicole Spracale, Coaching and Consulting

7. Prioritizing Your Team’s Success

I believe it is critically important to have one-on-one meetings with your direct reports on a weekly basis. What I have told my managers from the beginning of our relationships is that these meetings are their meetings, not mine. I am here to support them in getting done what they need to get done in their roles. My mantra with them is, "If you're successful, then I'm successful!" I reinforce over and over again that my focus is to support them. Do I provide guidance and direction if priorities appear off course? Absolutely! But, I help them discover their priorities—not dictate them to them. I also try to help them appreciate the reciprocity in any relationship... "And, if I'm successful, then you'll be successful!" How can they help serve me in the same way I should help serve them? Each of us can be "servant leaders" independent of our reporting relationships. Being a "servant leader" is not just reserved for the supervisor!

– Mallard Owen, Business Performance Consultant

8. Backing Your Words With Action

Servant leadership as a value proposition is very much like customer service. When you ask someone what makes their company unique and they say "customer service," it's usually followed by a huge eye roll from our entire team. Unless, of course, they can back this up with some Chick-fil-A style of action that someone can actually point to and say, "Man! THAT is service!" Coincidentally, we are currently working with a client in the education space whose brand essence happens to be servant leadership. This value is so ingrained in their business that they put the needs of their team and their school districts first—even if it negatively impacts their profits. That's how you know they believe in what they say.

– Rani Sweis, AtticSalt

9. Setting the Tone

Servant leaders understand how their team works and creates an environment in which they can thrive. This can be physical such as the setup of a stockroom for someone left-handed instead of right-hander. Or more social such as setting up a department dynamic where communication is open so that people can voice their concerns or opinions without fear. Take the time to know your people, what is important to them, what motivates them, and incorporate this into the culture of your team. When leaders serve their people, they communicate that their team is valued. Who doesn't want to work somewhere where they are valued?

– Steven Brown, DP Electric Inc

10. Taking Joy in Team Growth

True leaders love removing obstacles and helping their teams succeed. They celebrate their wins and give credit where credit is due. They are constantly asking, "How can I help?" especially when it comes to the development and growth of their people. The greatest compliment for a servant leader is to wave goodbye to someone you mentored, knowing you helped them achieve the next level of their career.

– Lorraine Bossé-Smith, Concept One LLC

Terkel creates community-driven content featuring expert insights.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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