Like pretty much everything nowadays, the concept of leadership has morphed and evolved into something our parents or grandparents would not recognize. A few decades ago, things seemed simpler. Being the boss automatically made you a leader in the eyes of employees. Now, everyone wears more than one hat, lines are more blurred, and being a boss doesn’t automatically make you a leader. Leadership is no longer concentrated at the top. It has trickled down the organizational chart.
With all of the tools we have today, there’s no excuse not to be a better leader. I’ll go a step further and say that being a good leader isn’t even enough. You have to be a servant leader. Servant leadership is defined as a “philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.”
A little over a year ago I wrote my fourth book, The Hero Factor: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations and Create a Winning Culture. In it, I talked about finding mentors to guide you throughout your journey. In order to become a hero leader, you must seek the advice of those who have come before you — those who have been there and done that and have the battle scars to prove it. Hero leaders surround themselves with mentors and experts who are keen on opportunities that benefit them (and others), who have a finger on the pulse and know the answers for problems that may be plaguing their industry.
That is what servant leadership is. It’s not about being an errand boy or bowing down to your superiors. It’s about leading by example and paying it forward. Being a servant leader is not just about what you can do for others outside the organization. It is being a servant to your values, creating a culture that reflects those same values and embraces diversity, including diversity of thought, as well as a willingness to learn the courage of your convictions.
What are your company’s values? Is everyone on the team clear on what the company, and you as a leader, stand for? According to Gallup data, only 27 percent of employees strongly believe in their company’s values. If we are to be successful leaders, those numbers have to go way up. How can that be done? Here are four steps to develop into a better servant leader.
1. Encourage diversity of thought.
Diversity encompasses myriad traits. It’s about more than just gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality or political and religious beliefs. It’s about thinking different, too. Having a diverse team fosters an environment that people want to be a part of. According to research by Glassdoor, 67 percent of active job seekers said a diverse workplace is important to them when considering job offers, and 57 percent of employers want to make a bigger effort to prioritize diversity.
Servant leadership encourages everyone to think outside the box and considers every perspective when tasked with moving the needle forward. The final decision is the byproduct of a collective collaboration and exchange of ideas. Power never rests with one person, but with everyone on the team contributing to the end result. Are you giving everyone a seat at the table?Why the heck not?
2. Create a culture of trust.
Trust is one of the hardest things to regain once it’s broken. How can any leader create a culture of trust? By clearly communicating to everyone in the company what the mission is, what values they are expected to live by are and what the overall vision is. A global database by Gallup reveals that just one in three employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership in their organization.
How can executives build a higher level of trust? By being crystal clear about everything. All communications need to be specific and disseminated to every single level of the organization, top to bottom. If you are not transparent and fail to lead with a clear purpose, no one is going to follow you. Being transparent foments trust, which has a direct correlation to work performance. Remember, trust is earned, not given. Have you earned your team’s trust?
3. Have an unselfish mindset.
It’s not about you. It never was and it never will be. It’s about the people who make it all work. Ask yourself: Where would you be without the cogs that make the engine run? One common mistake leaders make is thinking that profits and people are to be seen as separate entities, when they should go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other, so why keep them separate? Great hero leaders help facilitate the success of others and make everyone feel value and their contributions matter to the overall success of the company. According to Survey Monkey, 43 percent of respondents said that feeling appreciated makes them more confident. More so, 78 percent felt happy after receiving gratitude.
Great leaders drive change in many ways, but unselfishness is what ultimately allows them to scale their businesses and create a long-lasting legacy.
4. Foster leadership in others.
Leaders who understand the power of building a great team understand the need to develop the next generation of leaders. It is more than just mentoring someone in your midst who has the potential to take your job one day. With Baby Boomers retiring, it is crucial that leaders mold the next generation, but they have a tough assignment ahead. A white paper about HR and millennials states that 63 percent of millennials feel a lack of leadership development. This should frighten us, because who will be left to take over the businesses when we’re enjoying retirement? If we don’t shape up, the answer will be no one!
Fostering leadership comes in many forms, including coaching, mentorship and growth. Take the time to teach someone the ropes, to offer words of encouragement and answer questions these young leaders have for you. Great leaders give back. Great leaders are able to put together a diverse group of people from all walks of life. In fact, diverse organizations are 1.7 times more likely to develop innovative leaders.
Servant leaders give more of themselves not because they have to, but because they want to. Servant leaders are transparent, honest, and yes, even vulnerable. That sounds like it would be a weakness, but it actually can help build you up as a leader and let others see you as a human being, not just the person who signs the checks.