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Servant Leadership + EQ: Chemistry for High Performance Teams?

November 28, 2017
Dr. Chris Auger

What does servant leadership and emotional intelligence have to do with high performing teams?

As a retired Navy SEAL of almost 28 years, I can easily say the answer is everything!

Absolutely everything!

Globalization, technological advances, and multiculturalism have significantly impacted how organizational teams are formed. Teams today operate in a world full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (commonly referred to as a VUCA environment). It is common to find organizational teams comprised of members who are intentionally diverse in culture, skills, experiences, gender, and generations. They often exist in decentralized constructs across different geographic locations tethered together by technology. So, with this stage set, how are leaders able to build and develop high performing teams?

Successful leaders of high performing teams capitalize on developing the relationships between themselves and their team members; they also see the value in developing relationships between all team members. Leaders with this mindset understand that the best results are built on talent, skills, and most importantly, community. They have discovered the secret in cultivating the “secret sauce of community.”

Their high performance is anchored in a servant leadership approach combined with a high level of emotional intelligence to build a level of authentic community that promotes a unifying set of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.


Why Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership is not a new concept. Many people have described and practiced it in various ways. In in 1970s, Robert Greenleaf coined the term “servant leadership” in his writings on ethical and intentional leadership. Jesus modeled servant leadership over 2000 years ago on His three-year journey with the disciples. Mark Miller, Vice President of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A Inc., describes a servant leader as “A leader compelled by the unshakeable desire to serve.”  


“Being compelled to serve drives their why and their motivation, which is deeply embedded in their character.”


In this description, a leader is an individual who has influence over others. Being compelled to serve drives their why and their motivation, which is deeply embedded in their character. The description ends with a statement on humility and the purposeful focus of putting others first in order to add value. Many studies show that when an organization adopts an authentic servant leadership approach, the impact on performance is astounding. Some leading examples of this truth are: Chick-fil-A, Southwest Airlines, and Toro.


Servant leadership is comprised of followership and leadership. They are two sides of the same leadership coin. How a leader models both followership and leadership matters. Mark Miller’s description of servant leadership can be easily applied to the relationships between team members. Being a servant follower and leader builds trust vertically and horizontally, which pulls a team closer together. A leader seeks to earn the moral authority of their followers. This cannot be taken; it must be freely given to the leader. The same kind of relationship exists between team members. A desire for self-excellence (so as not to disappoint the team) will earn the moral authority of teammates. Servant followers, as teammates, positively influence one another. They also humbly put their teammates first in order to add value. High-performing teams operate under the premise that they authentically care for one another, they genuinely know one another, and continuously seek to help one another become better.


Why Emotional Intelligence?

IQ is short for intelligence quotient. EQ is short for Emotional Intelligence, and is all about self-awareness in the moment. Dr. Steve Stein explained emotional intelligence as “a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.” Similar to how a Kung Fu master responds to what he senses coming at him in an altercation, a team member with an elevated EQ can sense the emotions around them, combine that information with their own EQ and then respond in an effective and meaningful way.

Most leaders and team members have not taken the time to meet the most important person they need to know: the person in the mirror. When leaders and team members discover their EQ, they are introduced to themselves in a new way. Learning to leverage one’s EQ is one of the most important and necessary steps towards success and high performance.  


Combining Servant Leadership and Emotional Intelligence 

This is the game changer. The relational environment that results from combining servant followership and leadership with emotional intelligence is very compelling. High performing teams constantly seek to build community among team members by converting these three key questions to action statements.


Key Questions:

Do you know me?

Do you care about me?

Will you help make me better?


Action Statements:

I know you!

I care about you!

I will help make you better!


When team members believe and share in these three truths, their attitudes and behaviors follow. How are you building relationships within your teams? Your work team? Your family team? Your friends team?

Results and relationships flourish in an authentic environment where leaders and team members combine emotional intelligence with servant leadership and are propelled from simply performing to high-performing.

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