The Servant as Innovator?

A message from the idea of open innovation is that traditional transactional or even transformational leadership may not be sufficient to draw innovation from EVERYONE. A leader who wants to draws on the creativity of the entire organization must be empowering.

Several types of empowering leadership are practiced: one, servant-leadership, has been promoted and practiced since 1970 and has been heralded in such companies as Service Master and Starbucks (see good book by Howard Behar). The main message of servant leadership can be summarized in a few lines from Robert K. Greenleaf’s 1970 essay:

The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead…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?”

Does servant leadership lead to innovativeness?

More research has to be done directly on that issue, but in current research on Servant-Leadership and sales outcomes, my co-author and I found that servant-leadership is a predictor of proactive customer – orientation, essentially the effort to uncover “sticky” client information, which has been shown in other studies to be an antecedent of success in new product development.

Maybe it is time for an update: The Servant as Innovator?

For more on servant-leadership visit the Greenleaf foundation website: or read books by Robert K Greenleaf, Howard Behar, Ken Blanchard, or Stephen R. Covey.

Note: Many people at first glance are put off by Servant-Leadership, believing that it is “new age” or overtly Christian. I remember when I was first exposed to it in a leadership doctoral seminar led by Bob Liden. I was thinking that Greenleaf must have been a devout Christian when one of my fellow students spoke up and said “Was the author ever in India? He was clearly influenced by the Hindu religion.” Maybe the servant-leader is a universal theme…

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