Corporate Social Responsibility and Servant Leadership

CSR & Servant Leadership“I want to work for a company that embraces servant leadership. How can I find one?”

We get asked that question regularly. Unfortunately, there is not yet a definitive list of servant-leader companies.

Of course, some companies claim to embrace servant leadership in their value statements. But how do we know if such companies walk their talk?

And what about those companies that practice – but never use the term – “servant leadership.” How can we identify them?

Here’s one way: Look at corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.

Real CSR is not to be confused with “corporate philanthropy” (money usually donated to an executive’s pet project) or “green-washing” (trying to buy good publicity). Real CSR is a business strategy that defines stakeholders broadly, puts narrow self-interest aside, seeks sustainable growth and works for the greater good of a larger community.

That sounds familiar. It sounds a little like . . . servant leadership!

Indeed, corporate social responsibility and servant leadership are closely related. CSR is often a consequence of a company’s servant leadership culture – and some of its best evidence.

So, if we were trying to find a company that truly embraces servant leadership, we would begin by looking at companies with robust CSR programs. If companies value CSR, then they will promote their programs as examples for others to follow. Servant leadership talk is good; servant leadership walk is better. It is pretty easy to learn who is walking the servant leadership talk by examining the CSR actions they take.

Can we provide some examples of companies with great CSR programs? Sure.

I have the honor of serving on the board of an organization called Social Accountability International (SAI). The mission of SAI is to advance the human rights of workers around the world through verifiable workplace standards. Using a certification system, SAI works to eliminate sweatshops, end child labor and create safe and just working conditions.

Among the supporters of SAI are labor unions, nongovernmental organizations and some big brand names, including The Walt Disney Company, Gap Inc., Gucci, Hewlett-Packard, Eileen Fisher, Timberland, Tchibo and Tata Steel.

The CSR commitment of those particular companies is exemplary. They care about their customers, employees and shareholders, of course; but they also care about the workers in their supply chain companies. They tend to measure three bottom lines: people (human rights and development), planet (environmental sustainability) and profit.

So if you want to see what servant leadership looks like in practice, have a look at the CSR work of any of the companies mentioned above. Likewise, to learn more about SAI and its supporters click here.

Do you know other good ways to identify a company that embraces servant leadership? What advice would you give to someone looking to work for a servant-leader company? Let us know!