Principles of Servant Leadership on Cleveland Clinic

Principles of Servant Leadership on Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a complex, large healthcare delivery. Its localities include; 16 family health and ambulatory surgery centers, and facilities, eight regional hospitals, 44-building main campus in Cleveland, and facilities in Abu Dhabi, Canada, Nevada, and Florida. Cleveland clinic has employed more than 44,000 workers, including 11,000 nurses, and 3, 000 physicians and scientists. The clinic is celebrated for its many clinical “firsts” innovative; use of technology and effective management practices. Perennially, it is ranked as among the best healthcare providers in the nation (Patrnchak, 2015). For example, in 2013, Patrnchak mentions that the annual U.S. News & World Report survey of U.S. categorized Cleveland Clinic at spot #4, and 15 of its consultants were ranked among the best in the nation, together with the cardiac care that was ranked #1 for the 19th consecutive year. 

  Cleveland developed a new strategy ‘people strategy’. The strategy was on checking what makes employees put extra effort and high performance. According to Patrnchak, (2015), Cleveland was previously using top-down leadership model which resulted in failure until the adoption of servant leadership concept. Through this, the clinic operated with the concept that role in “making sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served’. The company utilized the ten characteristics of a servant leader: stewardship, empathy, conceptualization, persuasion, foresight, awareness, healing, listening, and building community and community to people’s growth. Over the years, Cleveland Clinic has used the principles in their operations. 

Commitments to Stakeholders

Cleveland is known for implementing servant leadership principles. From 2007, Platzer and Nagel (2013) explains that Cleveland has been engaging its employees this is after the CHRO conducted a walk around assessment and noted that majority of the employees felt undervalued and unappreciated. In relationship to organization performance, employee engagement positively correlated with profitability, turnover, quality, absenteeism, shrinkage, safety incidents, productivity, and customer loyalty. Employee engagement reduces malpractices and patient safety incidents in health facility settings.

Cleveland began their initial service leadership started with presentations to key members and later the employees. The clinic trained its stakeholders on developing service leader skills so that the strategy would be embedded in their culture. This was achieved by developing serving leaders’ competencies suitable for their levels from senior executive to supervisor.  According to Patrnchak (2015), the competencies included: building Work Relationships, Building Healthcare Talent, Empowerment and Delegation, Performance Management and mission and values. The competencies are embedded into specific courses and curriculum as part of Cleveland new leadership development strategy. 

The clinic has recognized the contributions of all their employees. In 2008, Patrnchak (2015) explains that Cleveland introduced a “Cultural Development Work Group” where all stakeholders met and they developed the “We are all caregivers” strategy. This concept included all employees; nurses, physicians, accountants, transport department as caregivers. They facilitated this by changing the term employee from their teaching materials to caregivers both in external and, internal communication. They implemented this using a six-month project where all the caregivers participated in demonstrating empathy to colleagues and the patients. They were grouped in 8-10 individuals where they used the acronym “HEART” which stands for the ability to listen closely and Hear the other person, Empathize with others situations, Apologizing after wronging, appropriate Response with respect to other people’s concern, and always Thanking the others and meaning it.

Possibility of Conflict Occurrence

Use of serving leadership skills can bring a lot of conflict in the organization. This is not contrary with Cleveland where it was not accepted at its onset. The clinic uses a hierarchical structure of leadership, command, and control (top down). The leaders of the clinic were resistant to change.  For example, the health professional in the clinic felt that they were trained to work within a top to down leadership model and they disagreed with the new model. Some of the officers with reservations Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) and Chief Operating Officer (COO) believed that the system would not work (Patrnchak, 2015). However, after engaging health professional in the mode, the accepted and adapted it.

Benefits of Servant Leadership Principles

The servant leadership style serves the group first followed by leadership principle. One of the advantages of service leadership as explained by Sendjaya (2002) is diversity as it is used in the diverse workplace as a democratic type of leadership causes differential viewpoints to be distorted or lost in fitting in a group’s needs. On the other hand, autocratic leadership style causes alienation among employees. Thus servant leadership serves every group member as it allows personalized management for every diverse team member as it assists in cohesiveness maintenance. 

Servant leadership also assists in productivity as the leaders gain a great deal of trust and respect from their employees. Platzer and Nagel (2013) explains that an organization using servant leadership style operates towards the needs employees as it operates as a collective during group making decisions. It works in contrary to democratic management which uses the principle of majority whereas input and opinion matters. In terms of management styles, the visions and the needs of the company are prioritized than the staff needs. However, servant leadership prioritizes the staff needs before other priorities. The strong consideration for employee’s needs, and its advantages it has in work-home life balance and career development which helps in developing a strong sense of loyalty from the workers to the company.


Platzer, P., & Nagel, C. (2013). Servant Leadership in the Cleveland Clinic: A Case Study in  Designing and Achieving Dramatic Culture Change. Presentation, Cleveland Clinic.

Patrnchak, J. (2015). Implementing Servant Leadership at Cleveland Clinic:A Case Study in Organizational Change. Servant Leadership:Theory and Practice, 2(1), 36-48.

Sendjaya, S. S. (2002). Servant Leadership: Its Origin, Development, and Application in Organization. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies;, 9(2), 57-65.

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