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Faculty Research Shows Servant Leadership Can Ease Employees’ Stress During Crisis

Tapia College of Business Faculty’s Study of Virginia Police Chiefs Indicates Putting Workers’ Needs First Could Assist Those Working Remotely During COVID-19 Pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, various types of leadership are being exhibited. But one of the most successful leadership styles is servant leadership.

So what is a servant leader?  It is a leader who focuses on the needs of others, especially team members, before he or she considers their own needs.

Dr. Shannon Jackson and Dr. Pamela Chandler Lee of Saint Leo University recently published a paper in the SAM Advanced Management Journal in which they examined the servant leadership behaviors of Virginia chiefs of police in times of crisis.

Lee and Jackson teach in Saint Leo’s Tapia College of Business. Lee is the director of Saint Leo’s Master of Business Administration program and is an associate professor of management. Jackson is a professor of management.

In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), many employees have been asked by their businesses to work from home. In the midst of this crisis, with employees being separated from the comfort, routine and safety of the work environment, servant leadership is needed now more than ever, the Saint Leo faculty members said.

Taking part in the study were law enforcement leaders from Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. Colonel Kelvin Wright, a Saint Leo alumnus, has led the Chesapeake Police Department since 2008. Covering a population of more than 242,000, Wright’s force consists of more than 525 officers with approximately 33 vacant positions.

The Norfolk Police Department is led by Chief Larry Boone, who was appointed in 2016. Norfolk’s population exceeds 244,000; Boone has 757 officers with approximately 71 vacancies.

James CerveraIn Virginia Beach, Chief James Cervera, also a Saint Leo alumnus, was appointed chief in 2010, and retired on May 1 after 42 years with the Virginia Beach Police Department. The state’s most populous city, more than 450,000 people call Virginia Beach home; 840 police officers work with the chief to keep the city safe. 

In their study, Lee and Jackson found police chiefs indicated that for them, implementing servant leadership characteristics means focusing on the needs of the officers in their departments and the citizens they serve.

Employing approaches such as listening, being aware of situations, building community, and using persuasion rather than coercion, leads to a positive organizational climate exemplified by empathy, teamwork, community, and the growth and development of others, the chiefs noted.

image of Pamela Chandler LeeNow, with many people working in a virtual environment with Zoom and Microsoft Team meetings, it is even more important to keep employees engaged and to reduce employees’ feelings of isolation and disconnection from their work and their coworkers, Lee said.

“Employers are implementing remote work as an obvious response to recommendations from public health officials to increase social distancing,” Jackson said. “The idea is that anyone with a computer and internet access can work from home."

sojacksonHowever, she stressed that employers should not assume that all employees want to work from home or that they will not experience challenges in doing so. Studies show that employees who work remotely can feel isolated, disconnected, and unsupported, Jackson said. “Prolonged isolation can potentially have an impact on employee morale and productivity,” she added. 

While some businesses throughout the country such as retail stores and restaurants are opening with social distancing practices in place, many people remain in WFH-mode.

“While working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, employees are expected to continue to work, meet deadlines, conduct meetings, and complete projects, while also taking care of their children, parents, and pets—along with making sense of the ever-increasing uncertainty of the effects of COVID-19—that’s a lot!” Lee said.

She explained that like the Virginia chiefs of police in the study, servant leaders demonstrate that they are more concerned about their employees than they are about the work or the tasks that the employees need to accomplish.

“These leaders understand that when employee needs are met and they feel supported in their roles, they will experience less stress, less isolation, and increased morale and engagement with their organizations.”

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