As we build on the principles presented in this series on servant leadership, we get to a core idea that raises an obvious question. The core principle: Servant leaders provide leadership. The question: “How can I be a servant and lead?” Or restated: “How can I lead and be a servant?”
Providing leadership is a necessary side of the servant leader—the traits that we are more familiar (and comfortable) with that speak to the “hard” people side of the leadership equation: drive, results, urgency, goals and metrics. Yet, in context, the practice of a servant leader remains a paradox: You cannot lead without serving to get the best out of your people.
While there are countless ways to provide leadership, the most influential leaders consistently act on these four things.
We hear so much about how leaders need to “motivate their teams.” And that’s certainly true. However, no motivation in the world will stick if the person you’re trying to pound it into doesn’t buy into your vision. So how do you get people to hop on the wagon?
Inspiration in its most authentic form appeals on an emotional level. To truly get your people to buy into your vision, first pump the fear out of the room and then play on the heartstrings of what motivates them by hearing their collective voices.
Metaphorically speaking (unless you’re in construction), you want to give them shovels and pickaxes to work alongside you in making that vision you communicated a working reality. That’s empowerment, and you have inspired them on an emotional level.
The best leaders won’t sit on decisions waiting for urgency to come knocking. They take risks and create urgency with intent and purpose, driving the bus closer toward the mission.
Don’t confuse this with the controlling and impulsive leader (or leadership team) that steamrolls ahead without soliciting varied perspectives or receiving enough feedback before making a decision that may hurt the team or company.
And unlike some detached and disengaged leaders with their own personal agendas, leaders who lead and serve take initiative with fierce resolve and humility (the qualities of “Level 5 leaders,” described in Jim Collins’s popular leadership book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.” They are driven and want results, but not at the expense of people. They balance personal will and commitment with the best interest of their tribe members in mind.
Great leaders provide leadership by communicating consistently about where the bus is headed. A Gallup research study that I have mentioned in previous articles measured the top reasons employees are disengaged, leading to turnover. One of the top five reasons is not having clear goals and expectations.
Every leader should be asking the question: Do my team members know what is expected of them? Gallup’s research shows that many great workplaces have defined the right outcomes; leaders/managers will set goals for their people or work with them to set their own goals. They do not just define the job but define success on the job.
The best way to strengthen relationships at work is through more communication. Intentionally spend time with your tribe members to learn more about them—their personal lives, what they’re working on—and to discover their strengths and interests. You do so by listening intently, with the other person’s needs in mind. The upside for you? You may identify opportunities where they could contribute more to other projects.
The best form of communication is still done the old-fashioned way: through one-on-one meetings. But before you push back with the complaint that there’s no time on your schedule, know that one-on-one meetings actually become time savers when used on a recurring basis. First, you need to know how to structure them so that it works to your advantage. This is going to test your servant leadership skills.
Follow these five tips for getting started:
Please show your employees that these meetings are valued and important by treating them as a priority. And it goes without saying, if a meeting has to be postponed, reschedule promptly.
(This six-part article series will conclude next month with a final article about how great leaders share leadership.)