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Servant Leadership Theory and Alabama Public Radio

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    Servant Leadership is a very timeless philosophy; Robert K. Greenleaf coined the actual phrase in an essay that he published in 1970. A quote from his essay states,  “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature (Greenleaf 1970).” New research on Servant Leadership links ethics, virtues, and morality and it is also said that it is significantly distinct, viable, and valuable for organizational success. One study specifically looks at how Servant Leadership is being investigated across a variety of different contexts, cultures, and themes and how this theory not only helps various organizations but also improving the well being of the followers as well. Employers all over the country are using servant leadership in order to make the workplace a more place effective for their employees. This essay will provide background of servant leadership theory and how it is being executed in the workplace and how this specific theory relates and can be used at Alabama Public Radio.


    In the twentieth century, Robert K. Greenleaf identified the ideas, principles and ideals that make up the idea of Servant Leadership. Even though this is a concept that traces back at least 2500 years ago starting in ancient Rome and Greece. Servant Leadership really flourishes in a democratic environment where servant leaders choose willingly to let go of egoism and instead be selfless for the benefit of others. Many say that Servant Leadership resonates from the insights of James Macgregor Burns’ transforming leadership. Greenleaf and his ideas have been sited thousands of times and have had many different scholars focus and comment on his ideas.  One author names Robert F. Russell wrote that the three very important values in servant leadership is trust, appreciation of other, and empowerment. Value constitutes the foundation of servant leadership and that the leadership values may be the underlying factors that truly separate servant leaders from other leadership types (Russell 2000). Employees that do not feel they are working in a team environment and that are doing work without working toward any sort of goal can cause employees to not be as motivated and interested in the work in front of them. Having someone lead, teach and motivate you to work hard for your goals makes employees more interested in working their hardest for their leaders and for themselves.

    Application to Alabama Public Radio

    Servant Leadership Theory can be applied to many contemporary organizations and how they function. Alabama Public Radio is the organization that I will be using to transition this essay into an application of an organization. Now that the general idea of servant leadership is understood I can apply it to an organization I have studied first hand. I conducted a field study on APR and will first discuss how this organization is being conducted and later describe how I believe things can be changed for the better and how the Servant Leadership Theory can be a big role in bettering Alabama Pubic Radio.

    Alabama Public Radio is a network of public radio stations that are based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama that reaches the western half of the state of Alabama with a different music such as classical, folk, jazz, as well as local news stories and bigger media networks. This station was created and licensed to The University of Alabama and gives students the opportunities to put their major into use for announcing or various other production duties. APR is run using very little full time staff, and instead is mainly employed by interns that help keep it running.  One very important full time employee is Pat Duggins who is a news director for APR. Pat has past NASA experience covering the U.S. space program. He also has led APR through the traumatic tornados of 2011, provided coverage for BBC in London, MSNBC, CBC in Canada, and Australia Broadcasting in Sydney and Melbourne. Pat and his team at APR have won more than sixty awards for excellence in journalism and have really put APR on the map.

    Another crucial part of Alabama Public Radio’s team is Elizabeth Brock who is an executive director. Elizabeth has over twenty-five years of experience in television production and decided to come to Alabama after working in Seattle. Elizabeth was also an executive producer for Bill Nye the Science Guy and many other series. She has many different documentary works and still continues to be an executive producer for a national PBS medical series. She has received multiple awards for all of her work and continues to strive to make Alabama Public Radio as best as it can be.

    One specific study that I was able to research took place In the UK and The Netherlands and used 1,571 people from different diverse backgrounds. They took a poll to figure out what type of leadership position they found to be more effective at a work place. The outcome was overwhelming with servant leadership and it was even mapped out with eight characteristics that make up what a servant leader is. The eight characteristics they used to measure this were forgiveness, courage, empowerment, accountability, authenticity, stewardship, standing back and humility. This study provided a clear picture and idea of the qualities of servant leadership and where improvements can be made in an organizational level that revolve around training and more leadership development but also how important servant leadership can be within an organization. (Dierendonck 2010).

    Two research professors at Shorter University conducted another study based around SLT and they gathered experiences from 15 different organizational leaders that practice the servant leadership philosophy and how business leaders link their service leadership practices to their organizational success. The survey was taken in a qualitative method where the responses showed that the barriers that were preventing servant leadership practice at this organization was the culture, fear of change, and lack of general knowledge on the servant leadership. This study showed insight into the barriers of ones ability to practice servant leadership effectively in the work place. (Austin, Honeycutt 2011).

    Errol E. Joseph who is a professor at Regent University in Virginia conducted the final study I researched.  The general idea of this study was to really dive into the relationship between employee perceptions of servant leadership and leadership trust. He conducted this study using the Laub’s Organizational Leadership Assessment and the outcome was that more employees felt that their organization led higher levels of leaders trust and organizational trust. This links us back to Greenleaf’s view that servant leadership truly is a precursor of the leader and organizational trust (Joseph 2005).

    Alabama Public Radio has many wonderful things working for them. Their very dedicated full time staff has extensive and very impressive work that helps to show the quality of APR.  After conducting research, I have realized that this is a very casual welcoming environment that highly encourages students to intern there. They are very keen on helping students practice and learn the information needed in their field of study for after graduation. The interns and full time workers seem to really enjoy the positive work environment and seem very comfortable with the people around them and the inclusion of servant leadership will help APR reach the highest of standards.

    Recommendations for APR

    After researching the Servant Leadership Theory and the ways that the theory works with organizations, I would like to propose some recommendations for the improvement of Alabama Public Radio. I feel as though this theory is already being positively enforced in APR by using interns and showing them necessary skills that they will need after graduation.  My recommendations based on SLT aim to help APR with the education and leadership roles they are trying to fulfill.  These Recommendations include Hiring more full time staff members in order to show interns more closely about the job by having more of a mentor/ mentee situation, having weekly staff meetings in order to organize and set up goals for the station, update visual and social media marketing strategies, and increase awareness about Alabama Public Radio.

    Hiring More Full Time

    Staff- Mentor/Mentee training: In order for APR to fully showcase SLT and the leadership skills needed to succeed in this field, I recommend that Alabama Public Radio continue to use its interns but also hire more full time staff in order to truly have enough full time employees to closely mentor the interns and also to demonstrate leadership techniques. If there are fewer leaders and more interns it can become very overwhelming trying to teach and promote healthy leadership rolls. In many of the studies that I looked at the main reason that the servant leadership theory was not very successful was because they did not trust either leader or the organization. This organization is phenomenal and really helps students prepare for their field of study so it comes down to trusting the leadership and sometimes in order to fully ask questions and understand there should be a bigger presence of leaders. If APR was able to hire more full time staff in their field, they could set up more mentor/mentee style relationships where interns in particular fields could have one specific leader in their field to go to for questions or concerns. This would help the full time staff not be as overwhelmed and could help show the interns the specific job they are striving to reach.

    Having Weekly Meetings to talk Strategy and Goals: Having weekly Meeting is something that I feel is very important to an organization and its success. In order to stay on task and know what needs to be completed each week, weekly meeting with the full time staff as well as the interns can help solve any questions that someone may have, as well as let the employees know what is expected of them this week and what tasks must be completed. If weekly meeting are not put into place then someone could go into the work week confused on what their particular tasks are and could end up falling short on the because of the lack of communication and leadership. In these meetings, goals can be made from APR to its staff and it will continue to help the workweek flow smoother. This can also lead staff and interns to set personal goals for themselves throughout the week and even the future in Alabama Public Radio.

    Update Visual and Marketing Strategies: One very important aspect of any organization in this day and age is its representation on social media.  APR has a presence on social media with their website, Instagram, Facebook and twitter. In order to optimize the success of APR I recommend updating the cover photos and the main graphic design. It needs to appeal to the listeners and be good quality. I feel that if Alabama Public Radio were to update their main graphic design picture and the quality of the cover photo pictures where they do their advertising for upcoming events, people will want to listen and connect to it more. In order for organizations to connect with the consumers, they must first do it visual. The visual aspect is just as important as the content of the radio station. I think it is important to have a team or even just one particular part of staff to focus on social media and the marketing of APR alone. Social media can make an business grow tremendously and is also the best way to market up coming activities and events that are sponsored or hosted by APR. Making sure your twitter feed and Instagram posts are visually pleasing and up to date are very important in connecting APR to the people it is trying to reach.  The accounts they have made are very important step forward, but adding more accounts like snap chat could help to reach more followers. Also adding in fun things like giveaways or contests could really draw the public’s attention to Alabama Public Radio and the content it is putting out.


    Servant Leadership Theory is a theory for organizations and the internal communication techniques they use within them. Servant Leadership can be applied to many different types of organizations just like Alabama Public radio.  After researching different case studies done on Servant leadership alone, it shows that APR is a perfect representation of Servant Leadership by using Students from The University of Alabama as interns in the field they hope to pursue after their academic career. They deliver training and information to the interns in order to reach the highest career goals they can after college. My Recommendations are directed towards improvement of the organization techniques as well as marketing strategies for APR. These small recommendations can make an already fantastic organization just slightly improved and moving in the right direction. Organizing them selves within, with more full time staff, weekly strategy and goal meetings and updated social media marketing can help with setting long term goals for APR as well as reaching out and connecting with people who will then be connected with them. With social media growing and changing everyday as well as what is expected out of an organization, it is interesting to see a decades old philosophy still being successfully used in the work place, and Alabama Public Radio is a perfect example.


    1. Dennis, Robert S., et al. Servant Leadership Theory. 1 Jan. 1970, Accessed 12 Apr.
    2. Koshal, Jeremiah Ole. “Servant Leadership Theory .” Application     of the Construct of Service in the Context of Kenyan Leaders and Managers, The School of Leadership Studies, Regent University , Aug. 2005,
    3. Robert F. Russell, Kathleen Patterson, (2004) ‘Transformational versus servant leadership: a difference in leader focus’, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 25 Issue: 4, pp.349-361,
    4. Koshal, Jeremiah Ole. “Servant Leadership Theory .” Application of the Construct of Service in the Context of Kenyan Leaders and Managers, The School of Leadership Studies, Regent University , Aug. 2005,
    5. Robert F. Russell, A. Gregory Stone, (2002) ‘A review servant leadership attributes: developing a practical model’, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 23 Issue: 3, pp.145-157, Errol E.
    6. Joseph, Bruce E. Winston, (2005) ‘A correlation of servant leadership, leader trust, and organizational trust’, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 26 Issue: 1, pp.6-22,

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