Servant Leadership

Putting People First through Servant Leadership

Sometimes "leading" is more about "empowering."

Putting People First through Servant Leadership

Let’s be honest, the advertising industry is known for big egos. Yet another reason why RPA is different from most agencies out there.

Our CEO, Bill Hagelstein, is a passionate believer in a management style called “servant leadership.” This approach is a huge part of what allows our agency to be truly People First, both in terms of the work we do and the culture of our company.

Bill’s personal definition of servant leadership is, “we work for those who work for us.”

It’s about making certain that other people’s highest priorities are served — helping them become healthier, wiser, more free and more autonomous. And by empowering (while also supporting) our people, we help them to thrive and make amazing things happen for our clients.

Servant leaders share power. They believe that caring for others, serving each other, is the rock upon which a great culture is built. It starts with hiring great people and asking a simple question: “what can I do to help support your success?”

There is much written on the topic of servant leadership, and we encourage you to go out and read more. Here’s a great website to start with. But as an introduction, below are four core beliefs of servant leadership, as we strive to apply it at RPA:

Be a great listener. And an even better observer.

Ask lots of questions and listen closely.  As a servant leader, it’s not about giving people the answer. Rather, it’s about helping them find their own answers. Beyond listening, it’s even more important to observe. What aren’t people saying? What is their body language telling you?  What you observe in their interactions with other colleagues? When you listen and observe, it becomes clear how you can serve.

Be a selfless mentor.

If you’ve hired the best people, now is the time you get out of way. However, this doesn’t mean abandoning them. Your job is to be selfless in your devotion to helping them succeed. Help guide them, share your own mistakes and successes, and illuminate paths they might otherwise be missing. Above all, hold them accountable. When they succeed, it’s their success. But if they fail, it’s your failure.

Be relentless in your dedication.

This is not a lazy form of leadership. It takes work to listen and support and teach. It is not easy to persuade people to set aside self-serving behavior and put other people first.  There are many instances where it will feel easier to simply tell people what to do, or do it for them. But that does your people a disservice. They don’t grow and learn. They lose autonomy and ownership of their work, which fundamentally means they’ll lose passion for it as well. So except you, as a servant leader, to never give up.

Expect greatness, yet embrace humanity.

Nobody is perfect. We are human. That’s what makes us amazing, yet fallible. As humans, we need to be pushed. At the same time, we value independence and autonomy. As a servant leader, your job is to embrace this contradiction and give your people both. Expect great things from your people. Set the bar ridiculously high. Hold them to it. Then do everything in your power to help them reach those great heights.  If they stumble, and they often will, be forgiving and help them back up —  but don’t ever lower that bar.

This philosophy and approach can have a profound effect on organizations over time. It helps create a culture of possibility, respect, creativity and accountability. An environment where people are empowered to make things happen. And a workplace where people can build careers without having to jump from company to company.

So, what can we do to help support your success?