Our Point of View

How Servant Leadership Supports High Performing Marketing Teams

Servant leadership


How marketing leaders choose to approach managing people significantly influences the success of their teams and, by extension, the organization. One leadership style that has gained traction in recent years emphasizes leader-as-coach rather than leader-as-controller. Rooted in the principle of leading by serving others, this approach, called servant leadership, flips the conventional leadership model on its head, emphasizing the growth and well-being of team members and the communities to which they belong. This approach is well-suited for marketing teams, where it unleashes creativity, innovation, and agility.

What is Servant Leadership? 

Before delving into the specific applications and benefits within the marketing domain, it’s essential to understand the core principles of servant leadership. Originally conceptualized by Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s, servant leadership is founded on the idea that the primary role of a leader is to serve. This approach is characterized by several key principles:

  • Empathy – Understanding and sharing the feelings of others, recognizing their unique perspectives and valuing their contributions.
  • Listening – Committing to actively listening to team members, valuing their input and feedback, and making decisions that reflect the collective wisdom of the group.
  • Support – Creating a supportive environment that addresses individual and collective challenges, promoting emotional and professional well-being.
  • Awareness – Exhibiting a keen sense of self-awareness and understanding the broader impact of one’s actions on the team and the organization.
  • Persuasion – Relying on persuasion rather than authority to influence and motivate team members, building consensus through shared values.
  • Stewardship – Embracing the responsibility to care for the resources and people entrusted to the leader, promoting a culture of trust and accountability.
  • Growth of People – Investing in the personal and professional development of team members, recognizing their potential and creating an environment where they can thrive.

By embodying these values, servant leaders create an environment where team members feel valued, heard, and empowered to take initiative. Leaders ensure teams have the support, resources, and autonomy needed to succeed. 

Benefits of Servant Leadership in Marketing

  • Enhanced Team Collaboration and Creativity – By emphasizing that the leader is there to serve teams, leaders signal that they expect teams to come up with ideas. This approach cultivates a supportive and open environment where ideas can freely flow, which is particularly beneficial in marketing, where creativity and collaboration create the best work product. 
  • Increased Agility – Servant leaders support and trust their teams to make key decisions. Moving decision-making closest to those with the most knowledge leads to faster decision-making and the ability to better respond to changes. 
  • Higher Employee Satisfaction and Retention – By focusing on the personal and professional growth of team members, servant leaders can significantly enhance job satisfaction and engagement. This not only contributes to a positive work culture but also reduces turnover, saving the organization time and resources in the long run.
  • Improved Customer Satisfaction – Although marketers aren’t thought of as “customer facing,” per se, their work impacts customers on a regular basis. A marketing team that is empowered and engaged is more likely to produce work that resonates with the target audience. Servant leadership’s emphasis on listening and empathy helps ensure that customer feedback and insights observed by front-line team members are valued and acted upon.

Challenges of Servant Leadership in Marketing

While the benefits are compelling, implementing servant leadership in a marketing context is not without its challenges. 

  • Willingness of leaders to adopt this approach. Some leaders feel it is their job to have all of the answers and “be in charge.” For these leaders, adopting a servant-leadership mindset may be difficult.
  • Building a culture of servant leadership requires time and patience. Leaders must be willing to invest in developing their team members and coach them to take initiative.
  • Some may misconstrue servant leadership as a lack of authority or decisiveness. It’s crucial for servant leaders to balance serving their team with providing clear direction and making tough decisions when necessary.

Integrating Servant Leadership into Your Marketing Leadership Style

Want to integrate more of these qualities into your leadership style? Here are a few suggestions to get you going.

  • Start with Self-Reflection – Understand your leadership style and how it aligns with the principles of servant leadership. Identify areas for growth and development.
  • Listen Actively and Empathize – Although it can be difficult in our hurried environments, make a conscious effort to listen to your team members’ ideas, concerns, and feedback. Show empathy and understand their perspectives to build trust and respect.
  • Empower Your Team – Delegate responsibility and give your team the autonomy to make decisions. This empowers them to take ownership of their work and creates a sense of accountability.
  • Lead by Example – Demonstrate the behaviors you wish to see in your team. Be transparent, show humility, and be willing to roll up your sleeves and help out when needed.
  • Focus on Personal and Professional Growth – Invest in the development of your team members. Encourage continuous learning and provide opportunities for them to expand their skills and careers.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating servant leadership into marketing leadership requires a change in mindset in how leaders view their role and relation to their team. Leaders need to shift from an authoritarian approach to a supportive approach. By prioritizing the growth and well-being of their team members, servant leaders in marketing can unleash unparalleled creativity, agility, and loyalty, achieving better outcomes. The journey towards servant leadership requires patience, empathy, and commitment, but the rewards— a more engaged team, innovative solutions, and satisfied customers—make it a worthwhile pursuit.