Question: I read your article in the Feb. 4 issue of Small Business Times, and it got me thinking about what makes a workplace a more employee-centered “place to be.” I feel that much of what you talked about rang true for me. But as I look back on jobs I have liked or not liked, one of the most important factors for me is what the company’s image is in the community. Are they seen as supportive of the community? Are they linked to programs and/or projects that are improving the quality of life for residents in the community? Are they giving back? I also know from years of nonprofit experience, that work environments that support employees (whether it is allowing them to volunteer on boards or committees or just letting them sell Girl Scout cookies in the lunchroom) with their efforts to be a part of making the community a better place to work and live, are viewed in a more positive light. As a member of a nonprofit who has benefited by these “grassroots” employee-driven programs and projects, and as a professional who has the pleasure of working with employee volunteer representatives, I think this type of team building and development tool is often overlooked, yet it is an important part of employee satisfaction. These programs/projects often teach them leadership and project management skills they may not have received in the workplace. What do you think?
Answer: The concept of “servant leadership” is at the heart of what you are describing. Most researchers acknowledge Robert Greenleaf as the person who originated this approach. He wrote a book on the topic about 30 years ago. Underlying this leadership philosophy is the belief that the most effective leader is the one who serves the people. Implicit in this approach is the belief that leaders define success by the impact their actions have on others. Helping people become all that they can be becomes an overriding objective rather than solely focusing on the bottom line.
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