Five Surprising Companies That Espouse Servant Leadership

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In Cheryl Bachelder's latest book, she addresses the importance of servant leadership at all levels and how it is not just a soft science but one that is necessary for real organizational growth and progress.

But is it possible to practice servant leadership in a large, publicly-held company with shareholders to answer to? Well, Cheryl did just that with Popeye's (of which she is the CEO), the international chain of fast food restaurants. Here are some other major companies that you may be surprised to find are servant leadership-based:

1. Balfour Beatty: It's surprising to have a construction company with a servant-leadership center but Balfour Beatty CEO Eric Stenman firmly believes that's the way business should be done.  Stenman's focus has always been on the "personal and professional success of all his employees."

2. The Container Store: CEO Kip Tindell has often indicated how he does not believe in the business mantra of maximizing returns to shareholders as a core focus. He always puts employees first and believes a thriving organizational community is the key to business success. Read his letter to investors here.

3. Marriott International: Founder Bill Marriott has always emphasized a culture of service -- both to customers as well as to others in the organization. His emphasis on "the spirit to serve" is what moves the multinational organization along to such heights.

4. Starbucks: They may be the bane of every indie coffee shop everywhere, but their service to their employees is legendary. Apart from offering many non-standard benefits, Starbucks recently also indicated that they would begin to help employees with free college tuition. CEO Howard Schultz believes a great company can only be built by linking shareholder value to value for employees.

5. Nordstrom's: The popular department store enjoys a loyal fan base thanks to their incredible customer-centric focus. What is not as well-known is their "inverted pyramid" organizational model that puts sales and floor staff at the highest level of importance and the executive team and directors at the bottom. Since the Nordstrom brothers themselves worked their way to the top (or rather, the bottom) from the stock room, this focus on the front-end is not surprising.

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