Flipping Leadership on Its Head

Karin Killander
Feb 21 2022 | Insights

Ezra’s Global Community Manager Karin invites us to challenge the way we think about leadership and writes about how the servant leadership model can help accelerate business results.


The last two years have radically changed the way we work. The pandemic has triggered a workers’ revolution making people question what they want out of work and demand greater freedom, higher pay, and bosses who prioritize their well-being. 

If it’s one thing the last two years have shown us, it’s that people no longer want authoritarian figures telling them what to do; they want leaders to be human and see them as a whole person. 

“Over time, we’ve realized that high control, high-demand leadership doesn’t work well.” Bill Taylor says, Leadership Coach at Ezra, ”what’s starting to emerge is heart-skills such as compassion, empathy, and care becoming a part of the leadership lexicon.”

As we reimagine what we want the future of work to look like, perhaps now is the time to flip the idea of leadership entirely on its head. Rethinking work will require a shift of mindset, starting with how we think about leadership.

The servant-leader 

Servant leadership is a model where hierarchical structures are entirely reversed, placing the leaders at the bottom of the triangle, serving the entire organization. The idea is nothing new; the term ‘servant leadership’ was coined over 50 years ago by Robert Greenleaf.

Servant Leadership is based on the idea that the role of the leader should be to empower their employees to be their best, with business objectives coming second. Purpose and meaning come first, and profit is a by-product. Before you resist, there is a twist; the results will still follow. Servant leadership models have shown to increase profit and be good for the bottom line. It saves costs on retention, stock prices rise, helps businesses gain more clients, and accelerates learning and development. As it turns out, compassion is good for business. 

A company known for embracing the servant leadership model is Starbucks. Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, worked hard on building an employee-centric culture. Schultz’s results speak for themselves, during his time at Starbucks the stock price increased 19’000%, and the company grew from 11 to 28’000 stores. 

Starbucks president Howard Behar is another famous advocate for the servant leadership model: “I had developed strong beliefs about the importance of employee engagement in building a successful business and lasting organization. Ultimately, I knew that how you treat your people is how they’ll treat your customers.”

Creating a ‘brain-friendly’ work environment 

Servant leadership is not just good for business; it’s also good for your brain. In short, when people feel engaged, they become better at problem-solving, decision-making, creative, and strategic thinking. In contrast – an overworked workforce focused on reaching tough business goals will find it difficult to focus, lack enthusiasm, and experience fatigue.

When leaders adapt their leadership style based on the individual, share positive feedback and hold regular 1:1’s, people feel more connected to their leaders and the people around them. Our brains are wired for social connection, making inclusion the ultimate productivity hack. 

A culture of psychological safety 

When people are led by leaders who care deeply about their progress and make them feel heard, it creates a culture of psychological safety. A culture driven by people rather than profit creates environments where people are not afraid to express their ideas, seek feedback, and ask for help. If you want to develop inclusive leaders, the servant leadership model is your friend.

Developing human skills 

More than anything, servant leadership is about developing human skills as a leader, such as compassion, empathy, and active listening. Adopting coach-like behaviors such as supporting others to find answers to their problems rather than telling them what to do, becoming more self-aware, and exercising greater self-control.  

“When people ask what I do, I say that I walk alongside other people. Supporting them where they want to go, not where I want to go.” Bill says.

We can’t solve today’s challenges with yesterday’s mindset. It’s time to challenge the status quo: whether it’s re-imagining the office, organizational structures, or leadership approach. So next time you’re entering the office, whether it’s in-person or online, ask your people: “how may I serve you?”

Get started building the leadership capabilities your business needs with Ezra’s world-class employee coaching, built to fit into today’s working life. We’ve redesigned leadership coaching for the modern age to help transform people through affordable, scalable and high-impact solutions, with equitable access through our world-class coaching app. Find out today how digital coaching could make a big difference to your organization.

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