Servant Leadership in Practice

By: Rajiv Tewaribased on interactions, observations and dialogues with Commander Navneet Bali, Regional Director (North) at Narayana Health.

I have known Commander Navneet Bali for almost a decade and have observed as well as experienced his servant leadership style in several organizations including the current one at the Narayana Health. His current assignment has provided him a dream environment, under an ethical and inspired leadership, to practice the servant leadership concept which is so close to his heart. Interactions with him have helped me transform the way I relate with others and he has positively impacted my leadership style. I am sharing the key lessons learnt by me with the objective of adding value to the community of leaders at all levels.

What is servant leadership?

Traditional leadership focuses on bottom line deliveries in monetary terms more than any other factor. Servant leaders on the other hand believe in the holistic development of people as the key to organizational growth.  They understand that if the organizational environment is not conductive to intellectual, physical and emotional health of the employees in an ethical manner then long term results on the financial front too would be difficult to achieve.

This in effect creates a culture that gives them competitive advantage in business terms too. Such organizations are able to attract and retain better talent and their productivity is higher too. A good example is Google where the leadership takes great care of its employees. Google India has recently reported Rs 24,926.5 Crore as Advertising Revenue; Profits are Up By 53.34% . This is a growth of 79.4% year-on-year (YoY) to in the financial year ending March 2022. They took great care of their employees during covid and the results speak louder than anything else in this case.  

Servant leadership works best in an ethical environment

Narayana Health is famous due to the missionary zeal of Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty and his commitment to provide lowest-cost, high-quality healthcare service provider in the world. My own personal experience at Narayan Hospital in Gurugram confirmed this fact on comparing the cost and quality of cancer care of Narayana Hospital with several other hospitals. The rapid growth of the Narayana Health Network across India, massive increase in turnover and the increasing faith of shareholders in the Narayana Health shares on the NSE are all indicative of the fact that ethical practices are great for business too.

Navneet considers himself blessed to have the opportunity and the freedom to practice his leadership style which is highly influenced by the servant leadership concept. However, he has also learnt that while practicing the servant leadership concept one should also be careful about its disadvantages in some cases. Like all other leadership styles, servant leadership too needs adaption in sync with the beliefs and values of the employees which are so diverse in India. In some cases servant leadership may convey the perception of weak leadership.

 My experience at the Narayana Hospital, Gurugram

My own experiences as an Attendant of a Cancer Patient with Commander Navneet Bali have interesting lessons for all.

On the first night of the surgery of my patient, the nursing staff hesitated in calling the doctor on duty even after requesting her to do so. I sensed that the Nurse is not familiar with the Narayana Hospital’s culture so sent a WhatsApp message to Commander Navneet Bali & the Unit Head. To my surprise the doctor appeared in our room in just five minutes and the night incharge too came along with him to attend to the patient. 

What happened on the next day is a lesson in servant leadership for me. Commander Navneet Bali in the night itself had created a WhatsApp group for communication between the nursing counter and the doctors so that in the absence of a person someone else would respond. This also reduced the possibility of the Junior Staff’s inability to reach out to the seniors as this was made a protocol. Next day morning I discovered that a meeting was called and after hearing every one this protocol was implemented for the day shifts too. My message of the night was simply treated as a valuable feedback for improvement and not as a complaint where a fault finding mission would have been triggered and the real problem would have continued.

In another case, a male nurse had to rush to the Operation Theater so hurriedly put on a Conola which created swelling in my patient’s hands. In sheer anger I complained about this male nurse though another nurse had come and corrected it. My complaint was not ignored and the male nurse was advised to learn the technique well and apologize as this was in his own best interest. The result is that he is our favourite nurse now and our conversations are around how he can grow in his career. This is how the servant leadership concept focuses on taking corrective actions instead of getting into fault finding and fixing of responsibility through advisory notes with copies to the human resources department.

Servant leaders exhibit the same spirit while dealing with all the stakeholders

For Commander Navneet Bali, employees, patients, attendants, suppliers & the society are all to be served with the spirit of a Servant Leader. Having worked for over a decade as an Advisor & Growth Consultant in the Healthcare domain, I admire the ethical standards and quality of services at the Narayana Hospital , Gurugram.  Doctors explain the complete procedure, collaborate with the billing to ensure right pricing which has been displayed on their website too and billing after discharge takes just a few minutes. A look at the qualifications of the doctors and the fact that Narayana does not allow for any kind of referral fee or surgery based commissions ensures the best of ethical practices by the doctors too. In many hospitals, a large part of the remuneration is given in the form of commission per surgery. This can encourage unethical practices in the form of carrying out procedures when these may not be needed. Referral fees attract middle men who may mislead the patients for monetary gains in terms of quality and costs both.

The awareness programmes at Narayana Hospital are designed to ensure prevention and screening to restrict diseases instead of simply focusing only on treatment. “Let’s Talk Health with Commander Bali” is a series on YouTube which gives a glimpse of how the Servant Leadership concept has been extended to serve the society as a whole. My patient’s doctor Dr. Shafiq Ahmed has volunteered to help me in running a series on Cancer Awareness. First article of this series has already been published.

There are many success stories of servant leadership; however I am keeping the article as concise as possible. For those who wish to practice the art & science of Servant Leadership the 10 habits of Great Servant Leaders may act as a good starting point. Once a person starts practicing these the adaption may be done according to the culture, work environment and values of the board members of an organization.

10 Habits of a Great Servant Leader:

1.      Listens with empathy

2.      Focused on individual’s growth as the key to organizational growth

3.      Convinces others through the process of dialogue and not force

4.      Aware about his team members’ strengths, weaknesses & challenges

5.      Conceptualizes and communicates clearly

6.      Does not carry debt of commitment for long

7.      Focuses on talent development in a holistic manner

8.      Conveys humility during interactions

9.      Community building with all those who come in contact

10. Clarity of vision and goals