Stress – Tips for the Servant Leader Part 4: 5 Tips for Reducing Organisational Stress

Reducing Organisational StressA Servant Leadership Culture and Style is the Key to Reducing Organisational Stress

As we have seen in the first three articles, stress frequently arises because of the demands that are being placed on staff without a reasonable consideration of their capacity and capability and it is exacerbated when they feel they have no control over their situation. They feel that they are simply Cog-ware, parts of a machine that demands performance but has little care for their well being. The result is stress and with that declining performance. Reducing organisational stress must be a priority.

The best, most productive organizations develop a servant leadership style that is inherently concerned with enabling people to achieve their full potential and in such an environment they do.

The Christian servant leader will be seeking to model a Jesus-style of  servant leadership as they outwork concern for the team members and contribute to their ability to achieve their full potential while reducing levels of stress. The result is an effective organisation even when the going gets tough. This approach is as applicable to church leaders as it is to leaders in para-church situations.

Now, here is the irony of leadership…..

Being so concerned with quality and productivity that the people come second or may be third on the list, results in less than the best in terms of quality and productivity. While, being concerned primarily for the people, working out a style of servant leadership modelled on Jesus, and actively engaging them results in improved quality and productivity.


Because the people become committed to the success of the team, the department and the organisation.

What aspects of such an anti-stress culture have the most effect on reducing organisational stress? Colin Buckland shared five aspects that you can start implementing today.

Servant Leaders Create a Sustainable Culture

One of the things that is more important than most people realize is the corporate culture; that is to say “it’s how things work around here”. Corporate culture is virtually always driven by the leaders. It starts with the most senior person and it runs through the senior leadership. How they behave and how they respond in certain circumstances will determine how other people will respond.

As an example, let’s say you model starting work at 6 AM and not leaving until 7 PM, taking few breaks through the day. You do it day-in and day-out. You’ve personally got a lot of productivity and you churn out the work. You may enjoy the feeling that somehow you’re a bit of a hero in the organization, but I want to remove that little rug from you and say, “Actually, you are modelling a style that is probably going to be quite destructive for other people.”

Typically, what happens is a leader sets a way of being and the people who report to that leader will begin to emulate that style which cascades down through the organisation. Now bear in mind that not everybody is the same, so not everybody’s got the same capacity for work, or even for stress as you, but they’ll try and be you. So your modelling is enormously important.

Also if we reward people, for example, who work long, long hours, it will go around the organization that long, long hours is what this organisation wants. So, people will start to try and do that. In the early stages we may think, “Hey, this is great. People are really throwing themselves into work.” But this is a false economy, this is not going to last, because a lot of these people are going to burn out and they’re going to get increasingly less productive over time.

The servant leader needs to consider the impact these kinds of dynamics and set about building a sustainable model. That is not about being green, it is about recognizing the culture that the leaders model can burnout the organization.

Servant Leaders Create an Open Communication Culture

First and foremost, as a servant leader you have to engage yourself more with the workforce, because the distance between leaders and workers is sometimes huge. We call it the power-distance ratio.

You know, sometimes there’s a big distance and so you may be isolated from what’s really going on. You won’t really be able to deal with an issue if you don’t know it’s there. All you’ll see is loss of productivity, more absenteeism and so on. It’s not adding up for you. When in actual fact, if you were to start to engage with the people more, you will learn more. The more you develop an open communication culture in your organization, the better that will be.

Part of doing that really means that people are able to tell their managers or indeed you or their leader, exactly what they think and feel without that somehow being considered rude, or a negative practice. So, you need to hear the voice of the people, because they are the soldiers that are carrying out the workload that you’re setting up for them. If you don’t know what that costs them, then you may be the cause of their difficulties and stress. In fact it’s quite possible, that a sole leader, a senior leader in an organization, could be the cause of major waste in that organization, simply by the way they go about their leadership. The root cause is that they don’t engage with the people, they are not being a servant leader let alone showing the concern that would be a hallmark of a Christian leader.

Servant Leaders Get Out Amongst Their People

In one particular case I was talking with a senior leader in Europe who I asked, “When do you get up from your desk and go and walk the halls, and chat with your workers to see how they’re doing?

He said, “I’ve never done that. I never do that. That’s not something that I do.”

And, I said to him, “Well, actually, it’s time you did.”

The story finishes well because he started to do that. The first time he walked into an office everybody stood up and said, “What can we do for you, sir?” That’s because they weren’t used to him turning up. Over time they got used to it. So, now he is able to be alongside the workers and understand what it’s like. It gave them a sense of “We’re all workers here, we’re all doing this together” and that really did help in that organisation.

Developing open communication is a cultural shift. So if you think, “Well, that’s a good idea. Next Monday we’ll do it. From now on, everybody, it’s open communication.” It’s not going to happen. It’s a cultural shift, so it has to happen over time. It begins with all the teams, and all the team leaders, and so on. It begins with you and over time you will develop this and reap the benefits; everybody will reap the benefits.

Servant Leaders Give Appropriate Feedback

Often leaders put staff appraisals low down on their list of priorities because we’ve invested appraisals with a kind of negative face. So, people think, “This is going to be my annual rap over the knuckles,” rather than something positive.

The servant leader can completely rescue that by the way that its done. It’s rescued by entering into a joint discussion about what is a reasonable expectation, and what would help the team member to thrive in this organization. That’s great, but if you don’t do it annually, or whatever the agreed period is, you’re actually harming your people.

It’s not sufficient just to have appraisal meetings but the feedback they provide must be effective. We’ve come across countless situations where a worker is stressed for want of feedback. They don’t know whether they’re doing a good job or a bad job. Interestingly this is further exacerbated by cross-cultural communication.

I’m thinking now of one particular story in Eastern Europe; it was an Eastern European worker reporting to a North American manager.

The Eastern European worker said to me, “I don’t know when I’m doing a good job.” This was a stressor, a major stressor.

He explained, “When I turn in my work if I know in my heart that that’s not a great piece of work… He [the manager] says to me ‘great, great, well done’ – a kind of a high-five scenario, which is foreign to my culture anyway.” He went on, “But then if I turn in a good piece of work, a piece I’ve put many hours into he goes “Great, great, well done” and  high-fives.

This is all “well-done. I’m sure he’s trying to encourage me, but frankly I cannot work out what is good work, and what is bad work, and what the expectations are.”  That was becoming a source of stress for this man.

Effective feedback is essential.

Servant Leaders Give the People their Voice

Giving your people a voice is very much a part of open communication. We demonstrate in the cultural shift towards open communication that we value their point of view.

What that actually means is that stress -the silent killer has its teeth pulled because these people are not then going to suffer silently to the point where ill-health ensues. They’re going to talk to you about their experience of the workload. That’s probably one of the most valuable relationships that you could have with your staff, that level of communication. You see, they’ve got to feel safe for that. It’s really only the leaders that can generate that sense of safety.

What Can You Do Today?

Here we are talking about a process that takes time but it can draw the teeth of stress and have the benefits we discussed in the first article. Your people will be able to achieve their full potential, productivity and effectiveness will increase, staff sickness absenteeism and churn will reduce. It needs to start, so start it today.

  • Because people will follow you as a role model, set a work style that is survivable.
  • Establish open communication. That’s mixing with your people so that you can get a sense of where they are and they can get a sense of where you are. (You may find thinking on responsible communication skills helpful too.)
  • Get up out of your seat and go amongst the people.
  • Give the staff voice, so they can express their concerns and in response to giving them voice, ensure that they know they are valued.
  • Give appropriate feedback, so that people know when they are doing a good job and when they’re not.
  • Generate a sense of safety when they are open with you.

If you want to tread gently just pick one of those aspects and try it out. See what happens. It will take time so keep on keeping on. You can learn more about leadership qualities here


Do you engage in these servant leadership strategies? If not where can you start? Make an opportunity to retreat to a park or a country walk for an hour or two and ponder the things you have learned about organisational stress.  Work out how to make a start on one or two of these strategies.

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