Episode 154: Servant Leadership: How to Build a Strong Culture in Your Organization

Liz Bothwell, Head of Content & Marketing

June 20, 2022

Give a listen to this NothingWasted! Podcast, where we bring you a popular WasteExpo session, “Servant Leadership: How to Build a Strong Culture in Your Organization.” You will learn the main concepts of servant leadership: sharing power and putting the needs of others first. Aaron Bradley, regional vice president, Waste Connections, and Mike Schwalbach, president, Sierra Container Group, addressed what a servant-leadership culture means for a company and the benefits they see within their organizations and communities.

Here is a sneak peek into the conversation:

Schwalbach set the stage by noting that, “A big part of what we do at Sierra, and who we partner with, it’s based on people. I don’t care if it’s our other team members, suppliers, customers; it’s really based on people.” He went on to observe that Waste Connections’ servant leadership is “pretty amazing because when you grow like they have…to keep that style of leadership, which is not easy…is incredible.” And, while Sierra Container is much smaller than Waste Connections, the two companies have a lot of similarities because of the focus on servant leadership.

Schwalbach “doesn’t think of servant leadership as going to work and all of a sudden becoming a servant leader; it’s who I am 24/7. Doesn’t matter if it’s family members, team members, it’s just who I am and how I conduct myself.” Bradley added on that, “our first line of defense when it comes to our culture is simply servant leadership; something we live and breathe. It’s in our DNA.” He went on to note that, “we try to define ourselves on who we hire, fire, and promote — and that’s the definition of culture. We have to be very intentional about this journey.”

Bradley acknowledges that servant leadership “isn’t for everyone.” One way his company helps employees learn and adapt to the culture is by offering servant-leadership classes; “we like the dialogue you get when everyone is in the classroom; different opinions…we approach it with open-mindedness and are very purposeful about the classes. We also have servant-leadership surveys to hold our leaders accountable. I think it’s good for our front-line employees to know that we are listening. There has to be a level of accountability all the way up the org chart.”

Schwalbach talked about how organizations always seem to be touting the fact that they are “investing in their people.” But, more than just a salary and benefits, it’s about “how you are interacting with them; how you are creating an environment for success; how you are empowering them. That is the single number-one way you can improve your business.” 

Bradley acknowledged that, in order to be a servant leader, “you have to be courageous and not shy away from tough conversations, which is so hard.” But, “how can someone get better, how can they know where they stand if you’re not candid and honest with them?” And, “there has to be a dose of humility. Ego has to be the enemy. If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can accomplish some incredible things together.”

The speakers went on to discuss the difference between management and leadership; the importance of fully engaging with people; and more.  

Listen to the full episode above.


About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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