Organizations around the world have been shifting their focus from conventional leadership to servant leadership, which “prioritizes the team’s growth and well-being over the organization’s or leader’s own ambitions”. In contrast to conventional leaders, servant leaders do not just care about achieving organizational goals. Their top priority is to coach and help develop individual team members. In other words, servant leadership questions the role of leaders as taskmasters who do not care at what expense work is done, as long as it is done on time, by prioritizing people over power. This people-first leadership approach could be introduced by following these 5 steps:
Step 1: Listen. One of the most important traits of a good leader is active listening. Good leaders tend to ask many questions and try to understand their team members. Active listening helps gain information that can support the individual success of team members, which can turn into the company’s success. Servant leaders also seek the opinions of team members on important decisions, especially those that concern their own work, and take into consideration relevant feedback. In addition, they try to set aside their beliefs and preconceptions and hear out their team members first. Therefore, servant leadership is about “letting go of an autocratic approach”.
Step 2: Encourage diversity of thought. Diversity is much more than just gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality or political and religious beliefs. It is also about thinking differently. Having a diverse team creates a place where people want to work. According to Glassdoor research, for 67% of active job seekers, a diverse workplace is an important factor while considering a job offer. Servant leadership reflects that view as it encourages thinking outside the box and considers everyone’s perspective when making decisions. “The final decision is the byproduct of a collective collaboration and exchange of ideas,” explains Jeffrey Hayzlett, the Chairman and CEO of the C-Suite Network. Servant leadership thus advocates collective power: every person contributing to the final result has power to influence it.
Step 3: Assess leadership traits in your team members. Understanding the leadership potential of team members helps assign them leadership roles in the future. Having noticed the positive traits of their team members, servant leaders can identify future leaders. They also set goals and create innovative strategies to push the limits and motivate their team members to take charge. This approach helps maximize leadership within organizations and “place employees in an authoritative position where they thrive and drive business,” claims Anjan Pathak, the Co-founder and CTO at Vantage Circle, an employee benefits and engagement platform.
Step 4: Be aware of yourself and others. People seeking to become servant leaders need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses as well as areas for development. Moreover, they should seek to understand the overall strengths and weaknesses of their teams as well as the strengths and weaknesses of individual team members. Having a good understanding of their own abilities as well as their team’s abilities, servant leaders can better direct themselves and others towards the benefit of the organization they work for. Once every team member understands how their work contributes to the company’s mission, they are more motivated. It is important to stress that servant leaders should try to encourage their team members to help each other achieve their individual and team goals. This approach encourages responsibility, and helps grow together with the company.
Step 5: Reflect and learn. To become a servant leader, you need to make a habit of learning from past experiences, both as a team and individually. At a team level, it is useful to reflect at the end of every project or throughout the year to see what went well and what could be improved. At an individual level, you should reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, values and leadership skills. This means asking for feedback from your team members to learn from them as well as building a culture of two-way communication where constructive criticism is very appreciated.