For Movement Creative Director Joe Little, servant leadership comes in the form of an energy drink.
“Every day that I come in, and I look tired, or I mention that I’m tired, a Red Bull appears on my desk after lunch,” he says. “No note, no need of acknowledgement. I know who brings it to me, but he never asks for anything in return — not even thanks.”
Servant leadership. The term is a pillar of our culture here at Movement, and we strive to display its qualities everyday. And yet servant leadership is often misunderstood and misinterpreted.
To describe servant leadership as merely small acts of servitude would be false. Servant leadership is not random acts of kindness; it’s not giving gifts. It’s much bigger than that. Servant leadership is noticing and anticipating the needs of another before your own; it’s an attitude and outlook that places others, especially those you lead, in a place of higher significance than yourself.
At Movement, our understanding of servant leadership is best represented by Jesus Christ’s example. Philippians 2: 3-8 lays it out:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Servant leadership in the corporate jungle
With the rise of the millennial worker, and a new emphasis on culture and the “why” behind the work, servant leadership as a corporate leadership style has experienced a resurgence. Originally coined by Robert Greenleaf in a 1970 essay, organizational consultant S. Chris Edmunds, in his 2014 book “The Culture Engine,” called servant leadership the key to leading others effectively.
“I define servant leadership as a person’s dedication to helping others be their best selves at home, work, and in their community. Anyone can serve – and lead – from any position or role in a family, workplace, or community.”
This leadership style rang true for Movement co-founders Casey Crawford and Toby Harris from the moment they decided to start what became the fastest-growing mortgage company in the United States.
“Servant leadership is a very misunderstood concept in the marketplace,” Crawford says. “A word that might be more familiar is humility.”
Crawford loves to reference C.S. Lewis when thinking about humility and servant leadership. Lewis writes: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Adds Crawford: “You wouldn’t think much of yourself, but you…would think much of the work that we’re doing and…you’d care much for your teammates and put their needs in front of your own.”
To be a servant leader, Crawford and Harris agree, you must focus on the needs of those you lead above your own. You must strive to uplift them, to help them better themselves, to encourage their growth and success.
“The day their success becomes more important to you than your success,” Harris says, “that’s the day you become a servant leader.”
A Movement of Change
Servant leadership permeates Movement. Chief Talent Officer Chris Allen points to the abundance of offers to help visitors to the National Sales Support Center in Fort Mill, S.C.
“I’ll often have guests that come and wait in those ‘reserved for visitors’ seats. I smile when I hear that they’ve been asked by eight different people if they have been helped or need water. That is a simple, practical display of servant leadership by our employees; that they take it upon themselves to make sure the visitor is being served and taken care of.”
For San Diego Branch Manager Frank Thomas, the best part about servant leadership is that no one is seeking recognition.
“It’s changed my life, working here — watching people go the extra mile for their teammates,” he says. “It has created an environment where everyone, all the way down to the person who cleans up at night, has an opportunity to lead.”
Operations Coordinator Kirstyn Rigdon sees servant leadership in the everyday relationships between processors, underwriters and closers.
“I watch team leads who stay late at the end of the month or come in on the weekends just to be there for their teams, to offer moral support, to lend a hand,” she says. “It trickles down. Team leads show servant leadership to their teams, who in turn serve their fellow teammates.”
In the north corner of Movement’s headquarters building, a staircase is decorated with a 20-foot mural celebrating servant leadership. Since opening the building in March 2016, Crawford has asked visiting leaders (governors, NFL coaches and others) to sign the wall. It’s part of his mission to inspire others to become servant leaders.
“A servant leader is going to take responsibility for a situation or an objective, or for an outcome, but not necessarily be all about aggregating the authority. They’re going to try to empower those around them to meet a goal or a deadline. They’re going to seek the best interest of the people they lead,” says Crawford. “It makes you wake up and go to work for the people on your team.”