Acton Institute Powerblog

The servant formula for succeeding in business

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“Good leaders must first become good servants.” ― Robert K. Greenleaf

“All I do is win win win no matter what” – DJ Khaled

Does treating employees with respect and autonomy lead to greater profits? Maybe. Some are making a case that actively engaging in servant leadership leads to a healthier company culture and ultimately a more successful business. That’s how Publishing Concepts, Inc. (PCI) president Drew Clancy explains his company’s success.

The philosophy of a serving leader is most strongly associated with Robert Greenleaf. He didn’t invent the concept, but he wrote about it explicitly in his groundbreaking 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader.” The concept was modeled on George Greenleaf, Robert’s father, a machinist who also spent a great deal of time giving back as a community steward. Robert Greenleaf argued that the best leaders are “servants first.” Although the philosophy crosses religious and societal barriers, Greenleaf attributed his philosophy to Judeo-Christian ethics.

The actual practice of being a servant leader is simple. It’s leading with humility and a servant’s heart. “The servant-leader is servant first,” Robert Greenleaf explains in his 1976 book Servant Leadership, “it begins with a natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first, as opposed to, wanting power, influence, fame, or wealth.” For a CEO or president, it means putting the needs of clients and employees first.

Publishing Concepts Inc. is a Dallas based organization that that publishes alumni directories and helps universities and associations expand and maintain alumni data.

In 1921, Rockwell F. Clancy started an alumni directory publisher called the “Rockwell F. Clancy Company.” Drew Clancy describes his grandfather’s goal for this company: “never to be the biggest, but rather to be the best.” The Rockwell F Clancy Company was sold in 1971 and just over a decade later Rockwell’s son Jack Clancy started PCI, a company similar to his father’s. By 1995, Jack Clancy’s health was failing so his son, Drew Clancy, moved to Dallas and joined PCI to help oversee the organization. He became president in 1999.

Today PCI consistently boasts rankings as one of the top employers in Dallas. It’s still an alumni directory publisher, and has branched out to a number services for clients. Drew Clancy is still leading PCI as its president.

Although the concept of servant leadership wasn’t necessarily explicitly a part of the business when Jack Clancy started a directory publishing company, the values were already there. Making servant leadership a core part of business was a natural step for Drew Clancy. Under their “Purpose and mission,” PCI lists its seven driving values, these values also called the company’s “north star” include servant leadership.

Last year I attended the Greenleaf Servant Leadership Conference in Dallas where I heard a lecture from Clancy on “servant leadership and the bottom line.” This discussion argued that the concept of “servant leadership” belonged in the business arena. Clancy and I spoke a few weeks later about PCI and Clancy’s leadership journey.

Drew Clancy did not discover servant leadership by pouring through libraries of business and leadership books. He happened to be browsing Fortune Magazine’s ranking of best companies to work for and noticed that one, TDIndustries, consistently ranked in the top three year after year. After some quick research he found their headquarters were also in Dallas. He decided to take a shot in the dark and called the construction and technology company, eventually reaching someone in HR. She agreed to have lunch with him and shared the concept of servant leadership, especially how integral it was to TDIndustries’ mission. This paved the way for how Clancy would lead PCI.

“I decided that everyone here at PCI would read The Servant as Leader,” Clancy explains. “We broke up into discussion groups and that was that. We started talking about it. That was in the early 2000s and it’s a seed that’s grown into a garden.”

Today Clancy bases his own leadership style specifically on servant leadership. “I really see my role to serve, support and remove obstacles so that individuals who report to me can do their jobs,” he says.

Following the servant leadership model is a “win/win/win” according to Clancy. “If you look at the performance of the companies on the Fortune [100 Best Companies to Work For] list,” he explains, “they outperform the rest of the market.” There does seem to be a link between happy employees and greater revenues. Companies with engaged, content employees earn between 1 and 2 percent more than similar organizations and outperform by 20 percent.

“We’ve tracked the companies that perform the best on a measure of inclusivity, trust, pride, and camaraderie—a new metric we’re calling the Great Place to Work for All score” Fortune notes in the article accompanying the 2017 ranking. “During the past year we found that organizations that placed in the top 25% by this measure saw higher revenue growth than the ones in the bottom 25%.” The data do seem to suggest that happy employees lead to better numbers.

“When we’re tapping to or realizing the potential of the people who work here, then we’re going to treat our clients better and we’re going to succeed in the marketplace,” argues Clancy. Meanwhile, servant leaders are also winning, not just because their team is winning, but because “there’s all kinds of personal growth that comes with learning to lead that way.”

Greenleaf’s “best test” for servant leaders is if their employees and mentees go on to become leaders, ideally servant leaders, themselves.

Featured image is CC0.

Sarah Stanley

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