3 Ways Servant Leadership Elevates Staff Performance

By Andrew Carlson, Foodable Industry Expert


One of the biggest struggles I have seen in the restaurant business is how to get your team to be forward thinkers. They’ll clock in and then their whole shift will be a series of reactions instead of planning ahead for the day, week, month, etc.

The issue is that there is no defined leadership culture that is created in these types of environments. Even if there is, it’s a philosophy that’s discussed within management meetings behind closed doors, but rarely is it practiced.

I’ve seen different leadership styles and haven’t seen close to the results I have seen when it comes to the philosophy of Servant Leadership.

The best way to sum up Servant Leadership is that ownership is in service to their employees as much as their employees are in service to them.

Employees aren’t owned or property – they aren’t lucky to have the position they do. It’s a collective, “we’re all in this together for a single goal and that is to make the customer happy.”

Here are three ways that Servant Leadership will elevate your staff’s performance.

1. It’s a Team Effort

When you come together as a collective, it’s no longer every person for themselves. It’s not one server against their section or the bartender against the manager. It’s everyone hustling for a common goal and that is to provide the guest with the best experience possible.

The world is full of competition and employees want to feel safe and secure. They want job security and a fun work environment.

It’s still necessary to hold people accountable for their actions, but the Servant Leadership philosophy holds the leaders of the organization accountable first. Back in June, I wrote an article about training that talked about how leaders contribute to the failure of an employee. When it comes to training, you can’t hold someone accountable for not knowing something if they were never taught.

Reflect on the processes and systems that are in place in your organization. Provide your teams with a safe environment to thrive in, and you’ll be shocked by how much their job performance skyrockets based on this alone.

2. It Builds Loyalty and Buy In

When staff buys in to your mission, the way they look at their job and the company shifts. Employees begin to look at what they do through the eyes of an owner – and that cannot be taught in any business or hospitality course.

The staff will see how the owners respond in high-stress situations. With Servant Leadership, owners and management are more responsive and less reactive, minimizing chaos and panic.

When you become more responsive and proactive instead of reactive with your teams, you are building a culture of leading by example through osmosis and will rub off in terms of how your management team speaks to staff.

Have you ever seen anyone (especially in this generation) start performing better after putting the fear of death into them? It just doesn’t happen anymore. That’s an old-school philosophy which is incredibly toxic to business.

Loyalty is created through conversations on how we can improve operations every single day. Getting employee opinions and putting them into action is a surefire way to create more buy in. Plus, making the staff feel like part of the force that has affected change in the organization builds loyalty and morale.

3. Customers Know the Difference

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a restaurant, and the staff just doesn’t care. You can tell they are only there for the paycheck, and are counting the hours or minutes until they can go home.

I hate to break it to you, but your customers can sense that – whether it’s a fast casual, casual, or even fine dining establishment. Your customers are smarter than you think.

Servant Leadership creates an environment where the team feels supported. In turn, the team wants to make sure customers feel supported. The team will go above and beyond for every guest and make them feel like they matter because the employees feel like they themselves matter – and can make a difference in the lives of their customers.

Whether your team consciously knows it or not, they are projecting their own feelings about the business onto the guests. The happier employees are, the more willing they are to do whatever it takes to make customers happy.

In order to elevate staff performance, you must elevate your leadership style and philosophy. Servant Leadership is a philosophy that sparks change in organizations.

I’ve seen employees that were considered too high risk to become top performers in their organization, and I’ve seen top performers weed themselves out because they thought they were considered untouchable. Servant Leadership allows you to be honest with everyone within your organization and tell them what they need to improve without creating a hostile work environment.

Three years ago, I was considered a high risk, and no one would hire me. Then, an organization took me under its wing where I learned about Servant Leadership and became a top performer. Now, I’m helping organizations create better leaders. That’s how you elevate staff performance – through your leadership and by example.