I'm going to let the cat out of the bag. If you haven't noticed yet, this column is heavily slanted toward promoting a best-in-class leadership philosophy the business world has yet to fully discover. It's as if I were writing about 3-D printing 20 years ago.

And that philosophy is the timeless concept of "servant leadership."

I would describe servant leadership as a set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more caring workplace where people love what they do, and whom they work with.

If this sounds to you like some sort of sweet, idealistic Norman Rockwell portrayal of corporate life, I beg to differ.

Some background.

The phrase "servant leadership" was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970 that has reached biblical status in some circles. Here's what he said:

The servant-leader is servant first ... It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first ...

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.

Greenleaf explains the "best test" of a servant-leader as her/his highest measure of success:

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?

While traditional management generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the "top of the pyramid," the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as best as possible.

Plenty of successful companies worldwide are known for practicing a culture of servant leadership, including Southwest Airlines, TDIndustries, Men's Wearhouse, Federal Express, Marriott, Herman Miller, Service Masters, Nordstrom, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Menlo Innovations, and Whole Foods to name a few.

It all comes down to one question.

If this has piqued your interest, there's something practical I'm going to ask you to do (consider it your homework assignment).

To seriously elevate your impact as a leader that will immediately change how your tribe views you, there's only one question you need to ask moving forward:

What is one thing -- just one thing -- I could start doing today to improve the life of an employee in the workplace?

Published on: Jul 1, 2016