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How to Retain Employees Through Servant Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

April 10, 2023 3 Min Read Governance & Leadership
Mary Ellen Harris, Ph.D.
Mary Ellen Harris, Ph.D. Chief Human Resources Officer

We’ve all heard the expression, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” People want to matter. People want to know that someone (especially their manager) cares about them and cares that they “showed up” for work today. Many Human Resources led programs and initiatives, including those related to DEI, are fundamentally aimed at ensuring that people know and feel like they matter. People want to belong to a community.

Employee engagement is driven by managers who care, in particular, those who are servant leaders and demonstrate emotional intelligence.

Servant Leadership

Peter Northouse is a leadership theory expert. In his book, Leadership: Theory and Practice, Northouse explains several different leadership theories, including Servant Leadership.

Servant Leaders approach leadership through the lens of putting the needs of their followers first; ahead of the business’ needs.

Servant Leadership philosophy is built on the belief that the most effective leaders are those who strive to serve others, rather than exerting power or taking control.

According to Northouse, there are four tenants at the core of Servant Leadership:

  • Encourage diversity of thought.
  • Build a company culture of trust.
  • Possess an unselfish/altruistic mindset.
  • Build and encourage leadership in others.

Characteristics generally associated with Servant Leadership include humility, empathy, valuing others, listening, trust, integrity, and caring. This sounds like a leader I want to work for!

Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman and Justin Barsio are experts, authors, and proponents of Emotional Intelligence. They emphasize the power of emotional intelligence and specifically note that having a high “EQ” or “EI” is essential for effective leadership and, more importantly, critical to forming meaningful relationships with others.

Justin Barsio defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions – both your own and those of others.

Daniel Goleman describes five key elements of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

In his book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, Justin Barsio espouses the importance of empathy and describes the three types of empathy as:

  • Cognitive empathy: Being able to understand why a person feels the way they do.
  • Emotional empathy: Being able to share another person’s feelings or relate to their feelings.
  • Compassionate empathy: Taking steps to offer help to another person.

It is here, at the intersection of Servant Leadership and Emotional Intelligence, that we find the answer to our question, “How do we retain employees?”

When we adopt the Servant Leadership philosophy and demonstrate Emotional Intelligence, we show our employees that we care about them and that they matter to us. The result of this effort is employee loyalty, which ultimately translates to employee retention.

If you’d like to discuss this topic in further detail, please contact Mary Ellen Harris, Chief Human Resources Officer, at Email.


Mary Ellen Harris is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Kreischer Miller. Contact her at Email.   



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Mary Ellen Harris, Ph.D.

Mary Ellen Harris, Ph.D.

Chief Human Resources Officer

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