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A better way of leadership: Why servant leadership is preferred over autocratic leadership

Servant leadership produces better results through employee connection

March 6, 2023  By  Mike Jiggens

Autocratic leadership is no longer the preferred means to manage employees. Although regarded as a more traditional style of leadership, it isn’t keeping up with the times and can lead to a reversal of fortunes within an organization.

Servant leadership, on the other hand, helps to produce more favourable results within a company and gets there through such means as personally connecting with employees, gaining their trust, influencing them and treating them how they wish to be treated.

Bradley Jenkins, owner of Express Employment Professionals of Cambridge, a leading staffing provider that helps job seekers find work in the business world, addressed an audience of golf course superintendents in November about how servant leadership is the key today to bring out the best in employees and keep them retained.

“The employment landscape has changed dramatically over the last 10 years,” he said, delivering the keynote address at the 32nd annual Ontario Seed Company/Nutrite professional turfgrass seminar in Waterloo. “Unless we adapt to that change, we’re going to end up a group of individuals who complain about that generation of people who don’t know work anymore. Those who change their leadership and management style become successful.”


Due to the nature of autocratic leadership, often is the case that when an autocratic leader retires, his organization starts to falter, Jenkins said, because an organization is structured primarily around one individual. 

Servant leadership, by contrast, results in a more solid organization over the long run, he added.


Several businesses provide their clientele with similar products and services, but the customer experience can vary greatly from one to another. Jenkins noted Starbucks and Tim Hortons both sell quality coffee and baked goods to their customers, yet patrons come away with different experiences. So, too, do visitors to Canada’s Wonderland and Universal Studios.

A leader must have that same experience with his employees because there are several other employers in the world, he said. Referrals are the No. 1 source for employees, he added, noting if good people are hired and they’re treated well, they’ll refer others to the same business.

“Good people hang out with good people. People with good work habits and who work hard hang out with people with a good work ethic and who work hard. Your biggest referral program should be how you serve your employees.”

Jenkins said a servant leader personally connects with his team, motivates his team and establishes strong communications. Anyone wishing to become a servant leader must serve his employees, he stressed.

As opposed to an autocratic leader who tells his employees what to do, a servant leader asks his employees what can be done to help them do the best job possible.

“This is what we want to achieve. How can I help you do it? The servant leader constantly serves his employees.”

Build trust first
When a servant leader endeavours to establish a personal connection with his team, he must first build trust.

“Trust takes a long, long time to build but only a second to break. Within yourself, you have to build trust for the people you work with and those who work for you.”

Trust is built by making plans and sticking to a schedule, apologizing for mistakes made, being humble, asking for others’ input and listening to them. Things that break trust include showing up late, cancelling meetings, sharing confidential information with others and disciplining people in public. 

“If you don’t connect and build trust, they’re gone.”

Each generation complains about the next one, yet each is responsible for the next one, Jenkins said, adding a connection must be established.

Influencing employees requires guidance, working with them and understanding them.

“You’ve got to be likable because then you can establish trust.”

A servant leader must also demonstrate confidence before his employees, Jenkins said, adding a display of composure is crucial. A confident person isn’t easily offended and celebrates the achievements of others. Confident people are decisive and focus on their strengths. They take initiative and maintain an open body posture. Confidence helps them to better deal with conflict.

A would-be servant leader who wishes to influence his team, gain their trust and be liked must first understand how to be confident, he said.

Being passionate
Servant leaders must be passionate about what they do. “Are you passionate about your clients and team?”

Jenkins cautioned not to attempt to achieve all attributes of becoming a servant leader at one time. Adopting them one at a time will prevent failure.

Employee retention is a key concern within most industries but is especially so in places where work is seasonal, including the golf course maintenance profession. 

“How much better would you be if you could retain those good seasonal people?”

Employee retention is a more favourable option than onboarding new people year after year, Jenkins said. A means to counteract the possibility of losing good employees is to discuss their careers with them, to compliment them on their work and help them to develop their skills.

Jenkins said employers should avoid saying to their employees:

  • You’ll always have a job here
  • I’m developing you to be my successor
  • I want you to have my job one day
  • I can help you get your next position

Good employees who are engaged with their employers will feel valued and will want to work with that company, Jenkins said.

Employees need to be treated the way they want to be treated, he said, adding they will otherwise go elsewhere.

An employer who can determine someone’s development level is better equipped to determine his owner leadership style.

“Micromanaging is a misdiagnosis of someone’s development level.”

Employees are often grouped according to development level. For example, a Development Level 1 (D1) employee is low in competence yet high in commitment. A D4 employee has both high competence and high commitment. A leader classified as S1, who possesses a telling and directing style of leadership, is apt to lose D4-type employees if he chooses to micromanage, Jenkins said. A D1 employee will require plenty of support and direction from a leader.

A D2 employee will have some competence but low commitment, requiring the level of leadership to be in synch, Jenkins said.

D3 employees have high competence and variable commitment. Participating and supportive leaders (S3) offer less direction and leave decisions up to others. They might oversee operations but will trust the group or member’s ability with the expectation they make appropriate choices. 

“You lose people if you don’t give them the right leadership style,” Jenkins said. “Good companies keep their people.”

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