Take a moment to imagine an exceptional leader. Who comes to mind? What are their character traits? What makes this leader great?
Now, consider something more critical to loyalty and followership: how does this leader make you feel? Is it inspired, energized, and creative? Or intimidated, tense, and controlled?
The much admired former CEO (and servant leader) of General Electric writes, “before you are a leader, success is about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
Servant Leadership is not only a way to help your employees feel good but it pays dividends on engagement, performance, innovation, and overall organizational performance.
Why Should This Matter To YOU?
Adopting the practices of a servant leadership produces a substantial return on investment. By prioritizing your employees growth and well-being, fostering a supportive and collaborative culture, and promoting unity, you will reap the benefits of:
- Improved performance
- Increased innovation
- Improved decision making
- Better stakeholder relationships
- Higher retention
- Stronger organizational culture
What Does it Mean to be a Servant Leader?
Servant leaders, as the name suggests, are servants first. In business, the “servant” personifies itself through the leader’s ability to empower their employees to march in unison towards a shared vision. This is accomplished through the prioritization of the employees’ growth and development and collaboration. In this bottom-up model, the leader is curious and flexible, facilitating trust and accountability and the employees are eager supporters of the overarching company mission.
The opposite, class-conscious leadership, has the capacity to strain relationships and poison your company culture. Class-conscious leaders replace collaboration with top-down decision making. This relationship not only has the ability to corrode trust, but proves to be detrimental to the execution of your business strategy.
What Do These Leadership Styles Look Like in Practice?
The class-conscious leader acts as a puppeteer, using employees as a means of execution, not a source of insight and perspective. Whereas the servant leader acts as a shepherd, encouraging employees to walk in the same direction, under a shared mission with the understanding that priorities may need to pivot.
The class-conscious leader clogs the artery of innovation by prioritizing the destination (What do we need to do to get there?). The servant leader enables the flow of creativity by focusing on direction (Are we focusing on the right objectives?).
The class-conscious leader says “you better not mess up.” The servant leader says “I messed up, and so can you” – a culture of trust is created, and innovation is restored. It is not about how a leader asserts their authority that drives success, it is about how the leader empowers their people to maximize their impact.
How Can YOU Practice Servant Leadership?
Prioritize the Growth and Development of your People:
Actively work to align your employee’s needs with the needs of the business. You are serving people with the intrinsic desire to grow and contribute. Once your employees feel they have a strong connection to your mission and that they are learning and growing in their role, they will continue to propel the organization forward. A clear sense of purpose drives employee engagement and performance.
- Ask your people: What engages them? What disengages them? What skills would they like to develop? What is their interpretation of their role expectations?
Be an Active Listener:
By paying attention to what your people have to say, you not only enable a more collaborative work environment, but you also demonstrate that you value their thoughts resulting in greater team cohesion and mutual respect.
Seek out Your Team’s Perspective:
The people you hire bring diverse perspectives, experiences, and knowledge to your business. This is a huge asset if utilized effectively. Actively engage your people to come up with more robust solutions to complex business problems; encourage them to share their ideas.
Ask for Feedback And Fail Loudly:
By allowing space for your team to provide you with feedback, you will enable an environment of continuous improvement. Furthermore, communicate when you have made a mistake – your employees will take risks and champion innovation if they feel like the environment is safe for them to fail.
Empower your people by trusting them to make decisions. A sense of responsibility will encourage employees to hold themselves accountable and form a clear picture of their impact to the organization, further propelling engagement and performance. If you do not distribute your power effectively, you risk having your employees fall into a state of passivity. When people feel underutilized or that their voice does not matter, this sense of powerlessness translates into low motivation and under performance.
Servant Leadership injects a sense of humanity and empathy into your organization. When your people feel heard, they are more likely to listen and contribute. Servant Leadership cultivates an environment of trust. Trust fosters engagement, performance, innovation, team cohesion and so much more.