SendGrid Chief Executive Officer, Sameer Dholakia, has been added to the list of highly rated CEOs in the tech world. With an approval rating of 98% from Glassdoor, he is now ranked next to tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. SendGrid is a company based in Denver, Colorado, and was founded in 2009. It deals in offering email delivery services to businesses. They offer management of different types of emails, including email newsletters, shipping notifications and sign-up notifications.
A big believer in servant leadership, Dholakia, who has served as the CEO since 2014, has transformed the company to one that is on course to achieve 100 million dollar revenue by the end of this year. In January 2016, SendGrid was named The utility tool of the year by Stach Share because of its affordable and high deliverability rate. In that year alone, it garnered a number of honorary mentions from key stakeholders in society - including a certificate for being a good place to work - and a spot among the 50 best content marketers.
So, what is servant leadership? It is a form of leadership that propagates the idea of a leader being first and foremost a servant. Although this form of leadership has existed in historical times, the term ‘servant leader’ was first coined, explained and propagated by Robert GreenLeaf in his brilliant essay The Servant As a Leader in 1970.
Robert Greenleaf defines a servant leader as one who has a desire to serve others - and from their desire to serve, they take a conscious decision to lead. The decision to lead is not to amass power, or be in a position of power. A servant leader is said to have achieved their goal when the people they serve have grown to be better individuals.
The concept of a leader first taking the position of a servant is totally different from the traditional concept, where a leader would be at the top of the pyramid. In the traditional concept, leadership positions dealt with the exercising of power over one’s ‘subjects’. However, a servant leader is one who shares power.
A servant leader seeks to identify and come up with ways to meet the wants and needs of their employees, colleagues, and customers. A servant leader ensures the needs of the people working under them are met, because the needs of the employees come first. When the employees’ needs have been met, they are more likely to perform their tasks with a high level of efficiency. The main aim of a servant leader is to ensure the employees attain their fullest potential; therefore, leaders must offer all necessary support to ensure this happens. Servant leaders lead through collaboration and not domination.
Robert Greenleaf describes servant leaders as the people who are goal oriented, the dreamers, the creative, those who can be trusted and depended on to deliver, and those who are good at communicating. They encourage moral reasoning, in that moral principles come out clearly in their goals and visions, and they are concerned with the success of all the stakeholders in the business, that is, the investors, business partners, customers, employees and the society in general.
One of the advantages of using this leadership concept in management is great customer satisfaction. This is because, as the people in positions of authority relate well to the other employees, this good behavior trickles down to employees. They then offer high-quality service to the customers, thereby bringing about customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. The employees are also able to better identify with the company, which will motivate them to work towards its success. Generally, managers who support and empower their staff are most likely to get maximum performance from them. This is also seen with managers who work with freelancers through online platforms such as Freelancer.com.
Mr Sameer attributes his success as a CEO and the success of SendGrid to servant leadership. He acknowledges the concept of servant leadership was something he learnt from his mother, who taught him there is power in giving, and not in receiving. He says his inspiration over the years has been an Indian parable; that when we enter into this world as babies we come in with our fists closed, holding on to a gift we are to bring to this world. The job then, is to find out what this gift is and share it with other people of the world - and when you accomplish this, you will pass in peace.
Mr Sameer joined SendGrid in 2014, five years after the firm was established. At this time, the company growth rate was already slowing. In a span of three years, he changed the sales revenue of the firm by almost 40%. He has registered a similar degree of success in the other firms he has worked for in the past.
Prior to being the CEO of SendGrid, he served in other leadership positions. He was the general manager at Citrix, a cloud platforms group, and with each year in office he was able to double the company’s revenue. For 12 years he worked for Trilogy, a private enterprise software company in Austin, Texas. He served in various positions of leadership, in business development, sales and product management. Because of his leadership skills the company grew from a start-up, to being worth 300 million dollars.
He acknowledges that the biggest work of a CEO who wants to lead through servant leadership is striving to empower your employees, as this is the best way to grow your business. Dholakia spends most of his time meeting with employees, both at the top and the basic employees. Even when there is no agenda to be discussed, he meets with them to find out whether they are facing any challenges, if they have questions on various projects, and if they would want assistance from their leadership team. It is in such an environment that new ideas spring up.
There is a concern of whether employees trust their leaders enough to tell them what they really think, because the managers literally have their jobs in their hands. Mr Sameer says that for SendGrid, they have developed a culture of using the word ‘honest H’, when giving a review. This acts as a safe word for the employees, indicating that even as they deliver their ideas, they are coming from a good place, with the intention to grow the company.
According to Robert Greenleaf, this concept of leadership is not only suitable for industries and companies. He explains that this kind of leadership is equally important to building a society based on the principles of equality and justice. He believes the best action to take is to increase the capacity and will of people to serve in society as well, and this will develop a culture of servant leadership.
From the trail of success left behind by Sameer Dholakia, it is clear that servant leadership is a great strategy to consider putting into practice for all those seeking to grow their companies. If leaders put themselves in positions of serving, they will be able to achieve set goals.
Hope you benefitted from these ideas! If you have unique ideas of successful management styles, don’t forget to share with us in the comments section below.