Why Servant Leadership
is Important in a Remote Business

See also: Understanding Others

Remote work is growing exponentially and, although we continuously read and experience the benefits of managing virtual teams, most of us know that leading virtual teams requires a whole different skill set than leading on-site teams.

Remote leaders need to restructure their company, define cadence, and create remote policies that help their employees know where they’re standing. But besides these protocols, they still need to open their minds about how to manage their teams.

This is when implementing leadership skills helps us bring out the best in our team. Servant leadership, for example, offers a great philosophy that helps leaders guide their remote business efficiently.

Woman communicating via Zoom on a laptop.

What is Servant Leadership?

Servant Leadership is a leadership style and philosophy in which a leader’s main aim is to serve their team. Usually, regular leaders and managers are considered to have powerful positions inside organizations. They are the people in charge of their teams, whose goal is to bring results and empower their team to improve continually.

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

Robert K. Greenleaf

Servant leadership is entirely different because it focuses on leaders as servers of organizations and their teams; the leader exists to serve the people. This concept was created by Robert K. Greenleaf, who popularized the phrase ‘’servant leadership’’ in his essay published in 1970: ‘’The Servant as Leader’’. Greenleaf believed that the real intention of a servant leader was to watch others improve. ‘’I serve’’ is the opposite of the traditional ‘’I lead mentality’’. From the I serve mentality come two main premises:

  1. I serve because I am the leader; and

  2. I am the leader because I serve

Servant Leadership Principles

Larry C. Spears, author, and president of The Larry C. Spears Center for Servant Leadership, identified the servant leader's 10 characteristics after carefully reviewing Greenleaf's original writings:

  1. Listening: Servant leaders are characterized by being avid listeners. They understand all the situations that their team members are dealing with. They prioritize listening to each member of the team while providing guidance and training.

  2. Empathy: Servant leaders try to motivate their team members and take the time to experience and feel what each employee is going through. They can understand them and prioritize each member’s well-being.

  3. Healing: Servant leaders promote the mental and emotional strength of their employees and their own. This characteristic has a deeper meaning because servant leaders are aware that many people have struggled with several things in their lives. Their goal is to help their employees heal and restore their relationships into healthier relationships.

  4. Awareness: A servant leader has taken a deep introspection in themselves. They are aware of what their strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, values, and feelings are. This helps them making more objective when it comes to making important decisions.

  5. Persuasion: Servant leaders have strong persuasion skills. They use them to make decisions and incentivize specific values and aspects in organizations rather than just using their authority position. Servant leaders are able to convince others and make their team members believe in what they believe.

  6. Conceptualization: Servant leaders are visionaries. They have the ability to dream big and conceptualize these dreams beyond their current situation. They are aware of the steps they need to take to get to the ultimate goal.

  7. Foresight: Servant leaders consider the past results, are aware of what’s happening in the present, and can predict future results. Because of this, they can plan with anticipation and achieve even better results.

  8. Stewardship: Servant leaders assume full responsibility for planning and managing all available resources. Their main objective is to manage them efficiently, improve, and make their organization and employees prosper.

  9. Commitment to the growth of people: Servant leaders firmly believe that an employee value goes beyond their contributions to an organization. Therefore, these types of leaders are committed to help each member of their team grow, not only in the professional areas but also in the personal areas.

  10. Building community: Servant leaders encourage their employees to work as a team even when working from home, and because they care about each individual, employees feel they are part of something bigger than just a team: a community. Every team member becomes aware that they have to give their best for everyone to succeed.

Servant Leadership in Remote Environments

Woman making a video call on a laptop.

More productive employees, higher profits, a bigger pool of talent, less stressed employees, and better work-life balance are few of the many benefits that remote works bring to the table. However, all that glitters is not gold, and leading a remote team has its dark side too.

I built my company fully remote about 10 years ago and I noticed that, back then, the biggest problem continues to be the current problem: Communication. It doesn't matter how technology has improved, and with all the tools available, communication is still a big issue for remote businesses.

Although you can implement strict communication guidelines, one of the best ways to encourage and improve communication and, overall, your company culture is with servant leadership.

One survey found that not giving clear instructions, having feedback meetings, making time for the team, or acknowledging team members' hard work were among the top ten employee complaints about leaders.

With servant leadership, communication is never a problem. Here are 5 strategies you could implement as a servant leader in your remote team:

1. 1:1 meetings

Feedback meetings are crucial in remote teams. 1:1 meetings are the perfect space for leaders and employees to share their feedback and discuss aspects that might be affecting their performance.

Servant leaders are aware of what each team member is up to but, beyond that, they want to make sure they measure performance in every sense. These types of meetings allow leaders to know their employees personally and help them overcome whatever barriers or roadblocks they might be facing.

Tip: Be consistent with 1:1 meetings.

If you have an extremely busy schedule, still try prioritizing them. Make them once a week with every employee, or once every two weeks at least.

2. Be organized

Servant leaders are visionaries and, for their visions to happen, they have all the necessary tools and the organization. Project management tools are a vital element in remote teams because you can set up due dates and see how projects are evolving with them.

Teams can't have successful projects if they are not organized. Besides, having these tools is also essential for teams to continuously schedule meetings and discuss how projects, tasks, or relevant aspects.

Tip: Be organized with meetings.

Once a week, have team meetings and discuss with every team member the main aspects of each project or task they are performing.

3. Establish communication guidelines and tools

As stated in the beginning, servant leaders are excellent listeners and overall communicators. In a remote environment, one of the first things they prioritize is communication. They ask themselves: How is communication going to work? What tools and channels will my team be using to avoid misunderstandings?

The first step is to research what tools are the best for communication in remote teams.

Tip: Establish strong tools for communication.

Create a guideline that helps employees understand how to use each tool and for what.

4. Motivate your team to be better

Not with copied speeches about how teamwork is going to make you all successful, but with the words that you believe in and think that your team needs to hear. Motivating your team doesn’t have to mean always being an optimist and overpraising them in how good at their job they are.

Recognition is important, but so is honesty. If the team results aren’t looking as intended, make sure your team is aware of it. But look past the problem, look at the possible solution, and encourage team members to give their best.

Tip: Group sessions.

There is a specific problem, but group sessions are a great way of motivating team members to think outside the box and come up with new ideas.

5. Encourage your team’s professional growth

Servant leaders focus on prioritizing their employees, and their team’s overall well-being. Besides leading the team, one of their main goals is to help each team member achieve their better self.

Employees want to grow and have new challenges; they don’t want to do the same tasks day in day out. A great way of encouraging professional growth is by giving them important responsibilities when you think they are ready.

Tip: Keep records.

In meetings, take notes on every employee and their performance. This will help you see how employees improve and how they’ve evolved from their beginning in the company to the present.

Redefining the Meaning of Leadership

Have you ever wondered what the main differences between managers and leaders are? Is leadership important in a team?

Unfortunately, some companies think that managing their employees and bossing them to do projects is the right way to boost productivity. These companies and managers think that if they aren't looking over their employees' shoulders, they will not do what is asked. However, I've learned that trusting employees is one of the most important principles every leader should have. And trust comes within hiring the right people to make part of your team.

Leaders refuse to boss around their employees. Obviously, they set tasks and projects for each member to do and are aware of the team's direction, but they intend to guide them. In remote teams, this is especially important, and leadership is continually redefining its meaning.

Remote leaders are not in an office where they can see their employees working. They have to trust that each employee, no matter if they are working from home or in a café, are fulfilling their responsibilities. Servant leaders trust their team and give them the necessary tools and strategies to achieve their commitments successfully.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

About the Author

Sharon Koifman is the CEO of DistantJob, a recruitment agency that provides remote worker staffing and best practices-based advisory services for companies seeking to improve and expand their remote work operations.