Servant leadership is the best way to achieve both great results and great relationships.
Organizational leaders often have an either/or attitude toward results and people. For example, leaders who focus only on results may have trouble creating great relationships with their people and leaders who focus mainly on relationships may have trouble getting desired results.
Yet you can get both great results and great relationships if you understand the two parts of servant leadership:
• The leadership aspect focuses on vision, direction, and results—where you as a leader hope to take your people. Leaders should involve others in setting direction and determining desired results, but if people don’t know where they’re headed or what they’re meant to accomplish, the fault lies with the leader.
• The servant aspect focuses on working side by side in relationship with your people. Once the vision and direction are clear, the leader’s role shifts to service—helping people accomplish the agreed-upon goals.
All good performance starts with clear goals.
Leadership is about going somewhere. If you and your people don’t know where you’re going, your leadership doesn’t matter. Although most managers agree with the importance of setting goals, many do not take the time to clearly develop goals with their team members and write them down. As a result, people tend to get caught in an activity trap where they are busy doing tasks—but not necessarily the right tasks.
To manage your team’s performance, have one-on-one meetings with your people to establish observable and measurable goals around their key areas of responsibility. Then you and they will have clear performance indicators to help determine whether they are making progress or need coaching to improve.
Good performance is a moving target, not a final destination. Many well-intentioned leaders wait to praise their people until they do something exactly right, such as completing a project or accomplishing a goal. But unless the person is confident in the task area, the leader could be waiting forever. Exactly right behavior is made up of a series of approximately right behaviors. Praising someone’s progress lets them know they’re going in the right direction.
For example, suppose you want to teach a toddler to say, “Give me a glass of water, please.” If you waited until she said the whole sentence before giving her a drink, she could die of thirst. Instead you start by saying, “Water! Water!” Suddenly one day, she says, “Waller.” You jump around, hug and kiss her, and get Grandmother on the phone so the child can say, “Waller! Waller!” It isn’t water, but it’s close. You don’t want a twenty-one-year-old going into a restaurant asking for a glass of waller, so after a while you accept only the word water. Then you start on please.
The same process works with adults. We all can use encouragement on the long road to victory.
Effective servant leaders don’t just use different strokes for different folks, they also use different strokes for the same folks.
It’s interesting to observe managers who use the same leadership style with all their people all the time. They often are frustrated—as are their over- or undersupervised team members.
While individuals generally can be at a specific development level, which requires a certain leadership style, they might have one or two goals where their competence and commitment are different from their overall job knowledge. For example, a person who is generally considered to be a Self-Reliant Achiever can usually be delegated to and left on their own. However, if you give that person a new task where they have little experience, they might be considered an Enthusiastic Beginner on that task. If you delegate to them in this part of their job, it could backfire. Why? Given their development level on this particular task, they need a completely different leadership style—in this case, clear direction and close supervision.
Managers who are servant leaders take a situational approach to leading people. They know they sometimes need to use not only different strokes (leadership styles) for different folks but also different
Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people so they will take good care of your customers.
Some leaders worship the bottom line. They think the only reason to be in business is to make money. They don’t understand that the best run and most profitable organizations know their number one customer is their people.
If you train, empower, and care about your people as your number one most important customer, they will go out of their way to take care of your organization’s number two most important customer—the folks who buy your products and services. When that happens, those customers become raving fans of your organization and, in many ways, part of your sales force. This takes care of your company’s bottom line and the financial interests of the owners or shareholders. Now that’s a winning environment!
You get from people what you expect.
When people don’t understand what their leaders expect of them, they feel lost. They have no compass, no boundaries, and no agreed-upon standards of conduct to follow. They’re not sure how to please their boss, how to behave around their teammates, or what a good job looks like. All they can do is wait for someone to tell them what to do and how to do it.
As a servant leader who works side by side with your team members, you must let your people know exactly what you expect from them. This gives them a mental picture of how to be successful under your leadership.
But expectations aren’t just about words—they are also about you modeling the behaviors you expect. You must walk your talk, or your words are meaningless. Communicating your expectations gives your people confidence and clarity about what a good job looks like.
Never assume you know what motivates a person.
Most leaders think they know what motivates their people—either money or more responsibility. When you think that way, and one of your people is performing well, you might say one of two things:
• “I’m so pleased with your work; I’ve negotiated a nice raise for you.” But in this case, the person doesn’t have pressing financial needs and might be thinking, “What I’d really like instead is more responsibility around here.”
• “In recognition of the great job you’ve been doing with customer relations, I’m giving you more responsibility.” However, in this case the person has had health problems in the family and could use some extra cash.
You’ve now given a raise to someone who wants more responsibility and given more responsibility to someone who wants a raise. In both cases, you assumed you knew what motivated the person. The reality is that people have personal reasons for what motivates them.
Servant leaders don’t command people to obey; they invite people to follow.
The reality is that most people don’t like to be told to do something. They like to be involved in decisions. That’s why I talk about servant leadership being a better way of leading than top-down, command-and-control leadership. Servant leaders know people want to be part of the team. They invite their people to follow them in a side-by-side working relationship that the people have had a part in creating.
People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.
In most organizations, leaders get behind closed doors, hatch a change initiative to fix a problem they think exists, and then roll out the plan to their teams. But people have a hard time getting behind an organizational change effort they have had no part in creating. Too many leaders think all the brains are in the executive wing and they don’t need the input of others.
Great leaders understand they are only as good as the people they gather around them. They know involving people early in a change initiative is critical to its success. People have predictable concerns about organizational change. When they can play a part in implementing the plan and are allowed to express their concerns and contribute their ideas and feedback, they are more likely to align behind the plan and help accomplish it.
Servant leaders love feedback.
Have you ever given feedback to someone up the hierarchy who killed the messenger? Maybe you made an honest comment like, “Boss, I think our Thursday afternoon meetings are a waste of time.” Your boss shouted, “What do you mean ‘a waste of time’? Are you kidding? Those meetings are important!” It’s clear this self-serving leader doesn’t want to hear the truth. Self-serving leaders hate feedback because, to them, negative feedback means you don’t think they should lead anymore. That’s their worst nightmare because they believe they are their position.
Servant leaders love feedback. The only reason they’re leading is to serve—and if someone has suggestions on how they can serve better, they want to hear them. They don’t allow their ego to get in the way. They look at feedback as a gift.
Giving and receiving feedback without judgment is one of the best strategies for servant leaders who strive to achieve both great relationships and great results.
Leadership begins with trust.
Some leaders charge headlong into setting strategies and goals for their teams without giving much thought to building trust. Yet trust is the foundation of any successful, healthy relationship. When you have the trust of your team, all things are possible. Creativity, innovation, productivity, efficiency, and morale flourish. If your team doesn’t trust you, you get resistance, disengagement, apathy, and, ultimately, failure.
The most successful leaders realize their number one priority is to build trust with their team. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate competence in their roles, act with integrity, show care and concern for team members, and honor their commitments by following through on their promises.
Someone must make the first move to extend trust. Leaders go first.
You don’t need trust if there’s nothing at risk. That’s called certainty, a sure thing, a guarantee. But if there is risk—if there is a chance you might get burned extending your love, money, or faith to someone else—then trust is essential. A part of that risk involves someone making the first move in extending trust.
Trust doesn’t happen by accident. For trust to develop in a relationship, one party has to make the decision to extend trust in the hope it will be reciprocated. That’s the way it works. Ernest Hemingway summed this up, simply yet eloquently, when he said, “The way to make people trust-worthy is to trust them.”
In the workplace, it’s your job as a leader to extend trust to your people first. It’s not their job to have blind faith in you simply by virtue of your power or position of authority.
Forgiveness is letting go of all hope for a better past.
When someone breaks our trust, it can be hard to forgive—especially if it was a major betrayal. It’s easy to believe that by refusing to forgive, we somehow hold power over the person who disappointed us. We think our refusal to grant forgiveness will make us feel better because we’re withholding something the other person values and needs to move on—our forgiveness.
But whether or not you choose to forgive won’t change what happened. You can’t revise history to make it better. Choosing forgiveness allows you to reconcile the past with the present. It allows you to let go and move into the future unencumbered from the pain of past disappointments.