Being a leader doesn’t mean you have to be a “commander”. You don’t need to yell at and grill every employee who works for you.
You don’t have to use your title to compel people either.
Sometimes, hard lines have to be set and strong, forceful leadership is needed. Yet far too often, leaders implement heavy-handed leadership when it’s not needed, and when it can actually be detrimental to the organization.
In recent years, the idea of “servant leadership” has taken root. Please note, servant leadership does not refer to being subservient. Instead, a servant means wanting to “serve” the organization first and foremost. The needs of the entire organization and staff take priority, not individual needs.
A servant leader is someone who is empathetic and who doesn’t trample over others’ needs for the sake of their own.
By placing a high emphasis on respect and empathy, a servant leader can secure multiple benefits, including buy-in from employees and stakeholders, a positive and supportive work environment, and employees who are more engaged and willing to serve themselves.
Let’s go over some of the key traits of a servant leader and how a leader can implement and master them.
Be Committed to Growth
Before going any further, it’s important to highlight what is perhaps the most important trait of a servant leader: commitment to growth, both for yourself and your employees.
As a servant leader you have to accept that you are far from perfect and never will be perfect. Your employees and team members won’t be perfect either. However, you should not denigrate your employees for not being perfect.
Instead, you should help them grow while also pursuing your own growth.
It’s important that you don’t try to mold your employees into some narrow view of who you think they should be. You need to help employees achieve their own career and personal goals.
If an employee wants to become a stronger project manager, then you should work with that employee to formulate ways to become a better project manager. If an employee wants to learn another skill, consider how you can help them.
Securing growth for not just the company, but also individuals and teams should be a priority for every leader. To the greatest extent possible, when setting up workflows and projects, opportunities for growth for everyone should be incorporated.
Make Sure You’re Listening
A servant leader is a leader who understands that other people have a voice, along with various needs and wants. A servant leader is one who is willing to listen to others, to hear not just their business ideas, but also their wants and needs.
Some leaders end up talking down to or ignoring those who work underneath them. A servant leader doesn’t, and that starts with listening.
As you engage with people, take a moment to consider how much room you are giving them to talk. How much do you account for within the whole conversation?
Make sure you make space for other people and make sure you listen when they are talking. Also, consider how much you are actually listening. Can you recall what they said, not just the broad strokes but also the details?
As you listen, reflect on “growth”, both for yourself and your employee. Simply listening can be growth for a manager. After listening to your employees, you should also consider how you can help them grow. Often, in the course of a conversation you will find growth opportunities.
Empathy and Learning to Understand
Listening is a great start, but it’s not enough. You also have to understand people and their needs. You can’t accomplish that without listening.
However, you have to go further as well, being a truly empathetic person. Think about things from their perspective. Put yourself in their shoes.
By thinking about conditions specifically from another’s perspective, you may be able to understand how they feel about situations. While you should never jump to conclusions or project yourself upon them, considering their perspective and being empathetic will help you understand your employees and coworkers better.
Being Aware Of Others and Especially Yourself
By listening and being empathetic, you will develop awareness of your surroundings. However, are you fully aware of yourself and your own position? Are you aware of your position in the company, the influence you can have on your coworkers, and your own responsibilities?
How about your short-comings and flaws? Nobody is perfect. With self-awareness, a servant leader can acknowledge their flaws and either address or mitigate them. By knowing your flaws, you can also look to coworkers who are better in certain areas than you to provide assistance or take over parts of the workflow that they are better equipped to handle.
Not a task manager? Is there somebody on your team who can keep an eye on milestones and to-do lists? Do you have a tendency to get off track at team meetings? Perhaps you can appoint a “meeting secretary” to keep the meeting on track.
By being aware, you can optimize both yourself and your team.
Be Persuasive and Willing to Negotiate
A servant leader does not rely on his or her title or position to command people. Coercion is seen as a last and extreme resort, rather than the go-to tool for ensuring compliance and directing people.
This final point may be the most important single takeaway.
A servant leader persuades his employees and creates buy-in. A servant leader is willing to listen to and negotiate with coworkers and employees as well. If an employee has a good idea, a servant leader will incorporate that idea. As he or she does, it will create more buy-in and a stronger persuasive argument.
As this persuasion process is carried out, the leader must always be aware of their position, their flaws, and how their actions can affect people. If employees have concerns, a servant leader will listen to and then address those concerns.
While addressing concerns, the servant leader must be empathetic and understand the employee’s point of view. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes. How would you feel about your directives? What aspects would you want to negotiate if you were on the other side of the table? Brushing off concerns, or coercing people to follow directives is the opposite of being empathetic.
As you persuade people, think about their growth and what they want to accomplish. How can you leverage those goals to create buy-in? Don’t extort workers or hold their ambitions hostage to achieve your own ends. Do the opposite, integrate their ambitions and growth into your plans. Make their growth an integral part of your efforts.
Being persuasive can be thought of as putting all of the previously discussed skills together to lead the team.
By being a leader who is aware, who helps people grow, who listens and is empathetic, you can create buy-in and persuade your employees. This, in turn, will create a stronger, more tight-knit, and more productive team.
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