5 Ways To Apply Servant Leadership To Your Management Style
When you focus on serving others, everybody wins
Gary Vaynerchuck attributes the success of his media company not to his social media presence, perceived hubris, or experience growing his dad’s company Wine Library, but to his amazing employees. He understands they may not care more than he does about his company, but they mean a lot. He, therefore, is a big advocate of servant leadership. “I work for 900 people, 900 people don’t work for me,” says Vaynerchuck in one of his many keynotes.
I work for 900 people, 900 people don’t work for me — Gary Vaynerchuck
Whether it’s hiring a “Chief Heart Officer” to cater to the needs of his staff, testing out unlimited vacation, to being close to the pulse of VaynerMedia. He knows by working for them, they will run through a brick wall for him. That’s how he’s able to deliver to his clients.
This concept is nothing new. Examples go as far back as ancient Rome’s Cicero, who often spoke about leaders taking advantage of others. Open the Bible, and we can find many gems on the topic: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” says Mark 10:45. The topic really gets explored in Management from Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term servant leadership. By moving away from the top-down approach, the people in the leader’s charge grow and become leaders themselves.
As leaders and managers, it’s difficult to fully embrace this concept. After all, some of us worked hard to ascend to leadership or build our own companies. Why now do we need to work twice as hard? To truly lead and influence others, we need to help them unlock their potential. The best way to get this done is to implement as much servant leadership as possible. This applies to any team, big or small. We all have our own style of management, with varying degrees of success. What would happen if we added some of these steps?
1. Get in the trenches
Nothing says, ‘I’m there for you’ more than leaders who work side by side with their team. Even if it takes a couple of hours a week, leaders can transform the mood and productivity of their team just by showing they aren’t there to work for them but with them. My Head of Department at a previous company would come out and take customer calls, just because. He would take a supervisor call, even with two management levels between him. Persons admired and respected his humility and willingness to help. How can you get in the trenches with your team?
2. Create a system for communication
One of my previous jobs had an interactive online board, where employees can share ideas and talk about the issues impacting them. From time to time, the CEO would jump on and engage others. We would often see changes based on the heated conversations that would sometimes happen on the forum. Open communication can transform teams and provide opportunities for leaders to serve better. It does not have to be fancy either. Weekly team meetings, one-on-ones, a WhatsApp or Slack group (with ground rules of course) can do the trick. Make sure to be consistent and follow through on what comes out of the talks.
3. Walk major decisions through your team
Whenever possible, bring big changes to the persons it may affect the most; the team members. For any process change, take feedback from persons at various levels. By listening to their team, leaders can get insight into the pain point of who they serve, internally and externally.
4. Focus on the whole person, not the employee
Your team is more than the 9–5 grind. And their 5–9 life could have a big impact on everything else. I often hear managers say people need to separate work and personal issues, which is non-sensical. Most people work to live. And if life is going to shit, work will too.
Therefore, it’s our responsibility as leaders to help our team grow as people. Find out their financial goals. Seek to know about their family life. As much as they’re willing to give, you should know. That opens up a host of opportunities for you to help them become a well-rounded person.
When someone gets a hand, it’s human nature to do something in return. That reciprocity can come in the form of transformative work for you and your team.
5. Make decisions based on Empathy
Servant leaders are fueled by empathy. By putting aside their needs, and emphasizing on how words and decisions affect others, everyone wins. On more than one occasion, I’ve made decisions and had to dial them back. I did so based on my needs at the time and not of my team. Experience is the greatest teacher but empathy can stop you from getting into sticky situations in the first place.
Final Thoughts on servant leadership
The best leaders focus less on ‘What’s In It For Me?’ and more on ‘How Can I Help You?’ When you change to that question, opportunities arise to improve your team, your ability to lead, and your success rate. Servant Leadership is not perfect. There are times when affirmative action is needed. More often than not, leaders get full buy-in if that time comes, since the leader has been a willing servant before. Take the time today to add more servant leadership qualities to your style.
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