student groupI have long seen the appeal in Servant Leadership. Investing in and valuing people as individuals seems a logical path to developing a powerhouse team in almost any organization. The group of devotees, however, remains limited. New data may change that as I wrote recently in a column for strategy+business:

But this soft-sounding method is looking more and more like it makes hard, bottom-line business sense. The study was conducted by Myriam Chiniara and Kathleen Bentein, professors in the Department of Psychology and the School of Business Administration, respectively, at the University of Quebec at Montreal. The Canadian researchers looked at three aspects of success at work: task performance, organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) directed at individuals, and OCBs oriented toward the organization. In non-academic parlance, that means people’s ability to get things done and done well, play well with others, and focus on accomplishing the organization’s mission. Extensive research they cite shows that employees must have three basic psychological needs met in order to achieve these goals, particularly in the knowledge economy:

• Autonomy: Individuals prefer to make choices and initiate action themselves. They want the freedom to think and do. Autonomy is motivating. This helps explain why every time I lead an exercise in delineating the differences between great leaders and lousy ones, “micromanager” is high on the list of detrimental characteristics named.

• Competence: Employees derive satisfaction from building skills and using them effectively. People like to feel that they know what they are doing and that they are improving over time. Remember this truism the next time you consider cutting your training budget.

• Relatedness: People like to feel connected to other people. They enjoy being part of a team or a community where they can care for and be cared for by others. This helps explain why, as Peter Drucker reportedly said, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Read the full column and share your thoughts.