As a leader in today’s complex business environment, you face immense pressure to deliver strong growth and robust results. But you also long to lead with purpose and integrity, which is inherent in most humans. The answer may lie in a leadership style that’s as old as time yet feels revolutionary in the modern, Gordon Gekko-inspired corporate way of thinking….servant leadership. In your pursuit of high-achieving yet principled leadership, you’re not alone. Today; ‘s employees (not to mention your customers) demand more from the companies they work for and do business with than ever before. They want to see value-driven governance focused on service, not self-interest. The data overwhelmingly shows this approach pays dividends for businesses willing to adopt this more holistic way of management. Servant-led firms boast higher employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, and long-term financial performance…in other words, it ticks all the boxes any high-quality organization would hope to strive for. Intrigued and want to dig deeper? You’ve certainly come to the right place.
In this article, you’ll gain insights from the renowned expert in this field, Kurt Uhlir, and become more intimate with the forces that drive this type of leadership. You’ll learn the key traits that save servant leaders apart and how they build thriving, purpose-driven organizations. Most importantly, you will discover principles and practices you can start applying today to lead with greater impact while staying true to who you are.
Characteristics Of High-Achieving Servant Leaders (And Why It Is Great For Business)
While discussing how this new way of corporate thinking can dramatically boost your business results, it’s worthwhile taking some time to understand what it is and the theory behind it. According to The Definitive Guide to Servant Leadership by Kurt Uhlir, servant leadership can be summarized as “[a] philosophy where the goal is to serve others and lead by example.” Although there is much more to the idea than that brief sentence would suggest, it nicely touches on the comprehensive view that most people have toward their fellow man. But how does one bridge the gap between the abstract and the tangible, particularly in regard to a hard-nosed business environment?
Emphasis On Serving Others Over Self-Interest
In order to fully understand the concept, you should realize that authentic leadership stems from a desire to serve others, not further your own interests or ambitions. In many ways, your personal success will sprout out of the foundation of empathy and compassion that you have forged. If you are having trouble connecting the dots, you can think of it like this: If you want to look amazing, you need to eat well and work out. Appearance is a consequence of good health, not the other way around. The same is valid with servant leadership. Living this ethos involves putting the needs of your team and customers first. This inverted power dynamic has been shown time again to pay out for those wise enough to embrace it and make it an integral part of operations.
Employee satisfaction soars when leaders relinquish egos and focus on supporting their people. Workers feel genuinely cared for, developing higher loyalty and engagement, directly strengthening the business via improved retention, productivity, and, perhaps most surprisingly, innovation. Servant leaders also unlock potential by encouraging employees’ growth by investing in mentoring and development opportunities, generating returns for years to come. By patiently stewarding employees toward their goals, you can develop a pipeline of future leaders who will eventually take up the mantle and lead the company toward an even greater period of prosperity. While self-serving leaders may enjoy immediate gains, you focus on the long game. And you understand that genuinely serving your people is the surest path to sustainable success. By leading with compassion and humility, you’ll empower your organization to thrive for decades to come.
Lead With Humility And Empathy
Today’s leaders can’t just demand respect as in previous generations; they have to earn it. Servant leaders accomplish this by leafing with humility and empathy. This may seem counter-intuitive to the way things are down currently, but it carries substantial benefits. Rather than rule through top-down authority, you lead by listening first. You regulate your self-worth, actively solicit feedback, and of course, have the courage to admit when you’re wrong. This models accountability for organizational learning. It also fosters physiological safety, encouraging workers to speak openly. You can think of this form of leadership as a special forces unit. While there is a leader who will ultimately choose a course of action and be responsible for that choice, they will discuss it with their subordinates. If the suggestions result in a higher likelihood of mission success, that is the path they will follow.
Workers today want to be seen, heard, and cared for. Conveying deep and genuine respect for people is essential to earning their trust and discretionary effort. While you might believe this approach seems soft, you should understand that humble leaders who show true compassion are more likely to inspire force loyalty and performance. Moreover, your team is more likely to go above and beyond their contractual obligations to ensure success. By putting people first, you build an organization poised to outserve and outlast any competitor.
Foster Trust And Connection With Your Team
As discussed, earning trust is not simply a “nice thing to do”; it’s vital if you want what’s good for your business. Trust is the foundation on which everything else is built. Although this might sound hyperbolic on initial inspection, it rings true when you think longer-term. Servant leaders recognize this fact and make trust-building one of their top priorities. They foster strong interpersonal bonds through openness and reliability (the latter of which is vital if you want your employees to follow you without hesitation).
Furthermore, you can build this trust with a deep-rooted level of transparency. Admitting mistakes, sharing plans, and having hard conversations show you have nothing to hide. You provide the context so workers grasp how their roles fit into the big picture. Even when news is uncertain, you communicate frequently to demonstrate trust and the desire to keep everyone in the loop. Along with this newfound trust comes unparalleled teamwork. Confident in each other and their leader, teams can have candid debates while retaining that all-important alignment in the greater scheme of things. A deep-seated level of trust also enables delegation, resulting in a more profound decision-making ability leading to an agile corporation that can exceed expectations.
A knock-on effect of this feeling is that when your employees trust in the leadership and feel cared for, these feelings will naturally extend to your customers. Your people become brand ambassadors, delivering superior service that creates devoted clients. When your staff believes in the company and its products, they will be more comfortable swelling them, safe in the knowledge that they are making a difference in your customers’ lives.
How To Apply Servant Leadership To Your Organization
As you have read, the benefits of servant leadership extend far beyond making your employees happy (although that is a good thing in itself) to the way your company is able to develop. You might be interested in applying these ideas to your own organizational structure but are unsure how to proceed. If so, you can use the following tips to help you get started to embrace this fresh approach to leadership.
Encourage Open Communication And Feedback
As a leader in the modern age, keeping things open and honest is key to success. Gaining feedback from your team members can be a daunting task (primarily if you have historically used a top-down approach), but it’s essential for growth. Being willing to take time for constructive critiques sets you apart as someone who values your people and builds trust within the workplace. You need to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to express themselves, whether that’s through regular meetings or just having your office door always open for conversion and thoughts. Listening attentively demonstrates respect toward other opinions while offering insight into areas you or other managers may have overlooked.
Conversely, this also works the other way. Instead of simply dismissing ideas out of hand, you should take the time to explain why some things are simply unfeasible. When you let employees into the inner workings of your business, you will find them to be far more facilitating if you are unable to act on specific concerns. This level of connection encourages engagement levels among staff which leads directly to better customer service due to knowledgeable staff delivering quality work with genuine enthusiasm.
Empower And Delegate Effectively
Empowerment drives teams to reach their highest potential. By delegating decision-making throughout the organization and setting high expectations, you show your team that you trust them, which should pay off with increased and willing involvement and flexibility that pushes forward innovative ways of thinking. Start by clearly defining priorities so everyone knows what they should be focusing on. This will also help avoid the inevitable mission creep whereby employees who are unsure of what they need to focus on will “creep” into other business areas that might not be relevant to their skill set. Nonetheless, once you have defined goals, you must give them the freedom to decide how best to achieve them while providing ongoing support as needed without micromanaging every step of the way. Be sure to delegate tasks effectively and assign roles that will help employees develop their skills over time.
Additionally, it’s critical to allow room for risk-taking and failure; don’t only judge decisions based on results but also consider intent or lessons learned from any missteps taken along the in order to create a safe environment for creative thinking and initiative-taking. If you have effectively set the goals, you should find that there will be few mistakes, but mistakes there will be, and you need to be prepared for this. When given the potent mixture of responsibility and freedom, people will respond with creativity and a desire to succeed…all of which have come from within themselves rather than an edict issued from above. At its core, empowerment leads to engagement, improved learning outcomes, and enhanced performance. Distributing authority is vital here in making your whole squad energized and motivated.
Share Credit For Successes
While it may be tempting to soak up the glory, you should take care to celebrate team wins, not just individual efforts. Generously sharing credit for business success builds collective pride and ownership. This fuels even more outstanding achievements in the future. Rather than claiming results as your own, you must acknowledge those individuals or teams who contributed. You call out stories of collaboration and thank employees publicly. When giving feedback, you tie progress directly back to the work of team members. You also empower employees to lead key initiatives, positioning them to receive accolades.
Celebrating their success demonstrates your commitment to developing talent from within. Sharing credit this way has profound impacts on engagement and culture, particularly in future projects. Employees feel valued for their unique contributions, strengthening loyalty and satisfaction. It reinforces the mindset that no one is above the team. This ethos extends to customers as well. By putting the spotlight on your people, you convey that service is a collective effort, not just the task of frontline staff. Clients recognize that your entire organization is devoted to their success. A humble, inclusive approach inspires extraordinary commitment and perforce.
Serve As A Mentor
Mentoring your employees is perhaps the most vital element in the servant leadership philosophy. By taking time to mentor promising employees and guiding them to reach their full potential, you can steward them to produce unbeatable results for the company that they are also proud of (and rewarded justly for). Rather than just managing tasks, you invest in understanding each person’s strengths, passions, and goals. You provide stretch assignments tailored to their aspirations, coaching them through challenges. This mentorship requires patience, but the returns are invaluable. You build trust and loyalty with employees who you feel invested in. You also strengthen the organization by continuously expanding individual and collective capacities. No matter how busy, you make time to develop your team. You know that your legacy depends on how well you prepare others to carry on your mission. By serving as a caring mentor, you transform promising employees into tomorrow’s servant leaders.
Servant leadership is a unique style of doing business that treats your company more as a family than an uncaring, dispassionate entity. When you treat your staff with a high degree of respect, they will repay it in spades, ensuring your business goes from strength to strength.