Attention FAE Customers:
Please be aware that NASBA credits are awarded based on whether the events are webcast or in-person, as well as on the number of CPE credits.
Please check the event registration page to see if NASBA credits are being awarded for the programs you select.

Want to save this page for later?

NextGen Magazine


Changing With the Times to a 'Noble-Purpose Leadership' Model

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Jul 27, 2023

GettyImages-1143297123 Company Meeting Woman Business Boss Board

The phrase "servant leadership," coined by management consultant Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970, was meant to improve upon the traditional model of command-and-control, but it has since “fallen flat” and needs improvement itself, workplace experts Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth Lotardo wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

“The servant-leader is servant first,” Greenleaf wrote. While organizations and individuals perform better when leaders focus on the team rather than themselves, and servant leadership increases employees’ trust, loyalty, and satisfaction with the leader, much has changed over the past half-century, the authors stated, most notably rampant burnout, people being busier and less-hierarchical workplaces.

Servant leadership was “a crucial stepping-stone into a more humane world of work,” the authors wrote. Now, however, leaders “must move forward towards a more purposeful leadership style that focuses on the impact that the organization’s work has on real live human beings.” This evolution is from servant-driven leadership, in which “you’re in your role to serve others,”  to noble-purpose leadership, in which the core message is that “you're in your role to make an impact."

To make this shift to noble-purpose leadership, the authors provide three areas for managers.

The first is employee interaction. Asking workers questions such as, “What can I do to help you be successful?” or “What kind of support do you need from me?” can exhaust managers and compel them not even to ask their teams what kind of help they need. Rather, they should ask questions such as, “What do you need to be successful in accomplishing our goal?” or “What help will you need to get?”

“This small language change reframes the emotional dynamic,” the authors wrote. “Instead of the leader having to be solely responsible for supporting the employee, asking the employee what they need to be successful creates a shared sense of responsibility.”

The second is decision making. Focusing on pleasing people can be a recipe for burnout, the authors wrote. It could breed entitlement, where employees think the leader’s job is to do nothing but make them happy. Instead, they should frame their decisions around purpose. Rather than asking “How do you feel about this?” or “Does this work for you?,” leaders can ask, “What impact will this have?” or “How will this affect our people or our customers?”

The third is coaching, an area in which leaders may struggle to invest time in the development of their staff members due to the number of demands on their time.

The authors recounted their experience in one program they conducted. Asking managers whom they coached, the almost universal answer was the worst performers. Yet all the coaching showed marginal improvements in performance.

The authors suggested that managers ask themselves where their coaching time would have the biggest impact. The managers then considered who were the most coachable, who learned quickly and who had the most at stake with their customers. Investing more of their time in their high and mid-performers, they found that these performers improved, while the bottom performers either worked their way up, made marginal improvements or self-selected out.

“Servant leadership brought us to a more compassionate, human-centered work environment. It’s time for us to make the next leap. In today’s environment, burned-out leaders endlessly trying to serve will struggle to drive the innovation, resilience, and sense of meaning required for future growth,” the authors wrote in conclusion. “Elevating the lens to noble-purpose leadership has the power to unite employees and managers in the pursuit of making a difference.”