The irony of servant leadership
Great leaders understand intuitively that leading requires great humility, great compassion, great selflessness and great love. (Jay Sullivan)
We hear and see leaders in the news every day – leaders in politics, business, the arts, education, etc. Leadership isn’t about a title, it is about the way we approach each other, the way we handle each other, the way we get others to accept our ideas and move forward.
Servant leadership consists of two parts according to Ken Blanchard. Determining the vision and developing/implementing the vision. These are the leadership elements. The implementation of the strategy is where the servant aspect comes in play. Our task as servant leaders is to support and give direction to those around us. The irony of servant leadership is that it is a position of power born out of a position of humility.
Humility is essential but is often misunderstood. Arrogant lecturers may convey knowledge to their students, but they seldom impart wisdom. If you enter a conversation or relationship from a position of arrogance, you put pressure on others to accept your agenda. Pressure isn’t leadership. Servant leaders earn the support of their followers. Humility often has a negative implication – it is often seen as someone who doesn’t value his own self-worth. Being humble doesn’t mean being uncertain. It means placing others first. Humility doesn’t mean that you should think less of yourself – you should think less about and of yourself.
If you want a team to perform well, your focus should be people. You should learn from others and then implement those lessons in your own organisation.
The essence of servant leadership is the power of love, over the love of power. (Ken Blanchard)
Listening is an essential element of servant leadership. You should understand your people – their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their wishes. This is why emotional intelligence, a mixture of self-awareness and empathy, is important for servant leaders. Without it you’ll never reach the level of trust that is necessary for leadership.
None of us reach something on our own. If you put people at the top of your list of priorities, you will reach the results that you strive for.
Choose your focus
Teams and organisations move in the direction of the words they use. Words have power:
Word determine direction.
Words lead to resistance or open hearts.
Words convince or mislead.
Words cut or heal.
Words encourage or discourage.
Words make work pleasant or difficult.
Words raise your status or steal your reputation.
Negative words are more powerful than positive words, because bad is stronger than good.
Successful leaders cancel out the negative:
Processes that oppress;
Destructive attitudes; and
You can’t only emphasise the positive – you should eliminate the negative.
Repeated complaining hard-wires the brain to do more complaining. The more negative you are, the more negative you become. (Travis Bradberry in Emotional Intelligence 2.0). Complaining pollutes environments.
Choose your focus carefully, because your focus determines your language. If you walk around looking for mistakes, you will only talk about mistakes. Your eyes control your tongue. You talk about the things you look at. Some leaders would have nothing to talk about if they didn’t complain! You will do your team a favour by simply staying away.
You should choose your focus wisely:
Focus on solutions.
Focus on strengths. You perform well by using your strengths, not by correcting your weaknesses.
Focus on the future. The future is built today.
Focus on thankfulness.
Focus on progress. Energy increases with forward motion.
Choose your focus, because your eyes control your tongue and your tongue controls your direction.
Seven mistakes that leaders make that cause team members to leave
Many leaders have no training in leading people. They often also lack the empathy and awareness necessary for effective interaction with people. This can have serious consequences. If team members leave, the most important reason is their relationship with their leader.
There are seven mistakes that leaders make that cause team members to leave:
1. They are inflexible and make life difficult for their team members
They make mountains of small problems. Team members should feel comfortable to approach you at any time. If you are inflexible, it creates a wall between you and your team. It doesn’t mean that you should be unethical and break with procedure. It does mean that you should place your team first and that you will have you use your own initiative in some cases. If a team member gives everything for his leader and the leader is inflexible when they have a request, the relationship between them suffers and the leader loses the trust of his team member.
We all know about office politics and favouritism. It is tragic when team members know who will be promoted next as a result of his relationship with the leader. It will definitely break the morale of the team. Team members who aren’t in your inner circle will always believe that you favour those in your inner circle, even if it isn’t true. This perception destroys the team spirit and undermines participation.
3. Leaders who are quick to blame or punish team members
A poor leader accepts the worst. Throwing your team members under the bus instead of standing up for them in difficult circumstances is a sure-fire way of shattering their trust in you. Everyone looks to the leader in moments like these. The leader should now react with dignity and be an advocate for his team. If you want loyalty, you should be loyal too. If you blame your team members you destroy your own credibility. This leads to a culture of mistrust. Good leaders don’t dwell on the mistakes of their team, they don’t point fingers and don’t hold grudges. They accept responsibility and focus on the solution to the problems.
4. They don’t show that they care
A poor leader handles team members as if they are replaceable. Team members have feelings and a personal life. If you care for you team members you won’t expect them to work long hours overtime. You won’t contact them afterhours. A healthy interest in your team members’ lives is the first step in building relationships and trust. Show that you care about their wellbeing. If a team member has personal problems, show empathy. Don’t simply be worried about when they will return to work.
“Having a personality of caring about people is important. You can't be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.” -Richard Branson
5. They don’t give recognition for successes.
Nobody wants to be ignored.
"People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards." (Dale Carnegie).
Value your team members. Show them how much you appreciate their efforts. Rewards don’t necessarily mean money. Simple things like “thank you” and “well done” will do too. Create an atmosphere where you can celebrate your successes and bring people together.
6. Micro-managing team members
Your task as leader is to supply the necessary instruments for your team members and to support them. Micro-management sucks the life out of a team. Give them a task and trust that they will do it. Monitoring every movement of a team member is discouraging. Ask for inputs. Encourage your team to make inputs. People like to feel that they have a say in what happens to them. Even worse than not asking at all, is asking and then doing nothing with the answers.
7. Poor leaders aren’t interested in the development of their team members.
People often leave organisations because of a lack of development opportunities. Recognise and encourage strengths, recognise the different skills of team members and inform them of opportunities. You can have all the perks, but if you don’t treat your team members well, they will leave. Team members know quickly whether a leader is trustworthy and whether he acts in their interest. If team members have a leader who truly cares, they will put in the extra mile to ensure success.
Habits; Resistance is futile
The harder people try not to think of something, the more they think about it! There’s even a name for it: ironic process theory. This process practically guarantees that your efforts to resist bad habits will fail.
“What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.” (Carl Jung). If my resistance to the behaviour I want to change is ineffective, what else can I do?
Don’t resist it, displace it. It is that simple. If you feel the urge to do the thing that you want to change, do something else – go outside, sing a song, drink a glass of water, it doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it is something else. Something that works for you.