This Month’s Tip:
Become a Servant Leader
Bossing around employees is so passé. Developing people, treating them with respect, encouraging their talents and input – these are the trends that research has proven build strong companies and give them the competitive edge. Servant Leadership – the philosophy of focusing first on the needs of employees and customers – has gained popularity in recent years with numerous fortune 500 firms like TDIndustries, Aflac and Synovus subscribing to its principles.
The essence of servant leadership – serve the employees first and success with clients will follow –might appear to be the antithesis of modern business. The roots of this philosophy are thousands of years old, with examples dating back to the 4th century B.C. in India and China, as well as in the New Testament and texts of Islam. In contemporary practice, it means actively listening to employees. Treating them as people with needs, interests and failings, and respecting their roles in the company and world.
Southwest Airlines former CEO Herb Kelleher believed that his company’s flight attendants were the airlines most important leaders because they had the biggest impact on the customer experience. Thos who have flown the airline know that Southwest flight attendants are some of the happiest people in the air. The corporate culture is often identified as an example of servant leadership and the company is one of the industries most profitable, say Jim Hunter, a servant leader consultant and author of The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership. “The test of true leadership is whether employees leave the company better than when they got there,”
Hunter says. “You want everyone growing and changing and improving, That is the only way your company will grow and change and improve.”
Unfortunately the concept of servant leadership tends to evoke high-level philosophical meanderings with little practical application. However, advocates say, there are everyday habits leaders can incorporate into their management routines that can have powerful results.
1. Listen. Pay attention to how you interact in face-to-face conversations and meetings. How do you communicate with your peers, subordinates, vendors and customers? How much do you really hear what they are saying? Do you understand what they need? Find meaningful ways to invite employee feedback and suggestions, like peer evaluations or an idea box.
2. Appreciate. Instead of trying to catch people doing things wrong, shift your attitude to look for people doing things right. Tell them about it both routinely – as in annual evaluations – and spontaneously.
3. Respect. Do you treat the assistant the same as the executive? The waiter the same as the banker? The leader sets the level of respect within an organization.
4. Develop. Do you offer employees the tools to become the best they can be? What do you provide in terms training, new job development, book clubs or other personal growth tools? The emphasis should be about coaching as opposed to controlling.5. Unleash. People have power and energy. They can use it or not use it. How can you
help develop it? Focus on decentralizing as many decisions as possible so employees can
use the power of their experience to help the company. Everyone is already showing up
and getting paid. Why wouldn’t you want each one to make the biggest contribution he or
she can make?
(Article reprinted from Success Magazine January 2012)