5 Keys to Servant Leadership

There are five key aspects that every leader must examine if they are to succeed as a leader.  

1.  Do I serve my people?  

The call for servant leadership is more critical today than at any other time in business. Every CEO and leader should see themselves as a servant leader because it reminds the leader and the team that success really comes down to how well you serve someone else. The idea of selfless-service should be taught throughout the organization. This attitude teaches the tram to work together as a whole unit, not as individual parts. Teams always produce more than individuals, and it will be the organizations that are successful at building teams that will succeed both in growth and innovation.  

Often organizations and companies reward individual performance. Businesses must make the pivot to rewarding and encouraging team performance. A vital aspect of every individual’s performance review should be how they engaged and propelled a team to help the organization. Another pivot that organizations should consider is moving from individual reviews to team reviews, and the leader evaluates departments and areas of a business.

When a leader serves the team by listening to team members and getting team members to listen to one another, a leader is on the path of building success in their organization. Sometimes it takes a leader a moment when they get knocked back on their heels to understand the importance of listening as a leader. However, when a leader truly listens to their people, it propels the leader to become a person of influence.  

2.  Am I building a great culture?  

A great leader can build a great culture. A great culture can build a great organization. A great organization can have a great impact. Therefore, it is important for leaders to think about what they are doing to contribute to building a great culture. Many organizations today focus on cultural surveys to understand how people feel about their working environment. Cultural surveys often do not provide the real answers for how people feel about the leader and their workplace. A leader must take the initiative to be with their team and seek to know how their teams really feel about their work and their working environment.  

Great cultures are built on clear values. The leader must strive for clarity in how decisions are made and how people are to perform in the culture that they are building. Values drive clarity because they are an arbiter of how decisions are made and what expectations should be embraced in dealing with team members. Too many businesses try to build a culture but never take the time to clearly explain and identify the values that make up the culture of the organization. For people to succeed, they must know and embrace the rules of engagement to use a term from the military.  

Leaders must embody the culture that they want to create in an organization. The leader’s presence and character set a model for everyone in the organization to become like. The best way to explain a leader’s presence and character is to highlight Bob Rosen’s tree metaphor from his book Grounded. Your presence is like the tree’s roots, what people can’t see. Your character is what people can see, the branches and leaves. If you hack off a branch, another will grow. If you kill the roots, the tree will whither and dies. The key to building a great culture is to focus on what others can’t see by developing your roots and the roots of the organization. 

3.  Am I reaching my potential as a leader?

Every piece of equipment in the organization has a potential capacity. The best businesses use their resources to their best level of capacity. One example is the Blackhawk helicopter. It has two engines, each stronger than the engine in the Huey helicopter. If a pilot made their approach too fast or too slow, they would not be able to stick the landing without exceeding the engine’s capabilities. A successful pilot must know the engine’s potential and monitor it correctly to perform at the highest level of performance.  

A question every peak performance leader asks is what is the maximum performance I could achieve without exceeding any limitations? Leaders must know themselves. It is imperative that a leader knows their strengths and weaknesses. They must know their blind spots, and they must know how they work and where they need a team around them. A leader who hopes to reach their maximum performance will know when they need to take time away from the business to refresh and replenish their energy.  

One habit that I encourage leaders to employ is the idea of a four-day weekend. Too many leaders run on empty. These leaders have very little to offer to their teams because of their depleted energy levels. If a leader strategically plans for a four day weekend away from the business, it can often help a leader catch their breath and give the leader clarity on vision and next steps on a project or an issue that is facing the organization. Leaders can schedule to be off on a Friday before the weekend and Monday after the weekend. These two days can become an important day in the life of a leader. Short breaks can often lead to big breakthroughs for the leader and in the leader’s thought process.  

4.  Am I being clear about my vision?  

Miscommunication impacts the performance of both the leader and the organization. High performing leaders communicate frequently and consistently about the vision of where a company currently is, and where the organization is going in the future. CEOs make a mistake when they keep their vision to themselves. Sometimes a leader is afraid of sharing a vision, thinking that they may not be able to accomplish the vision that has been established and then will look poorly in front of their team. Teams would rather follow a leader that has a vision that cannot be accomplished than to follow a leader that has no vision or is afraid to communicate their vision.  

Often an assessment that identifies a person’s communication style can be a breakthrough for a leader so that they know how they communicate and how they should communicate with others. Once a communication style is identified, a leader can use cues to understand another person’s communication style. Communication is about common understanding. If you want to connect with others, know what language they speak, and learn to speak their language. The leader must communicate their vision in a way that their people can understand and embrace it.  

5.  Am I open to changing how I lead? 

Too many leaders lead alone. Building a team and delegation is often a struggle for most CEOs and leaders. However, leaders who wish to lead at their peak performance will understand that building a team through delegating tasks is an important step for the growth of the leader and the organization that they lead.  

It is important for a leader to understand why they want to delegate. There are many reasons a leader might want to delegate, such as

  • To reduce their workload
  • To get more done
  • To enhance specialization
  • To develop others

Of all the reasons a leader would like to delegate, the best reason is to develop others on their team so that others can reach their peak performance as well. When a leader seeks to find the best in the people that they lead, they can find others to lead with.  

One change a leader may make in their leadership is to join a peer retreat where they can learn from other CEOs and business owners. Many leaders are a product of the best leadership thinking in which they are exposed. When a leader listens to other leaders, they learn new ways to look at issues, they examine new ideas to implement, and they receive accountability to make new attempts to consistent in how they lead.  

In relation to accountability, leaders would be wise to hold themself accountable to Robert Greenleaf’s best test, contained in an essay, he wrote a 1970 essay about Servant Leadership.  He asked the leader to examine the following questions as they sought to lead at their peak performance:  

  • Do those served grow as persons?
  • Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
  • What is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?

When a leader can answer yes to those questions, they can rest assured that they are leading at their highest level of peak performance. Leaders need to lead better. And leaders will lead better when they ask themselves these five crucial questions. Leadership is too hard and too important for any leader of any organization not to lead well. May it be the goal of every leader to hear the words well done from the people that they lead and even from themselves as they think about leading effectively.  

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