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Monday, April 11, 2022

Servant Leader as Change Agents

I was recently asked if employees are more accepting of change and improvements when they have a leader who is being a servant leader. I’ll share my thoughts here.

Servant leadership is about inspiring people to do noble work that calls forth the very best they have to offer. They see their responsibility as a leader to increase the confidence, capability, ownership, autonomy, and responsibility of their people. The goal is to bring the best out of others and help them work at a higher level.

In a team led by a servant leader, the leader is one part of the team, and their role isn’t necessarily more important than the role of any other member. Being a servant leader means accepting responsibility for the team—its members, objectives, reputation, morale, and more. The servant leader recognizes that they are responsible to the team, not the other way around, and they act accordingly. Servant leaders lead teams that people want to join.

Servant leaders understand what success looks like, not just for the team as a whole but also for each member. A servant leader enables the success of those they lead, removing barriers and creating an environment for the team to succeed. To be a servant leader to a high-performing team, you’ll need to listen carefully, be attuned to the people around you, and empathically understand what they’re thinking. The servant leader knows their team’s capabilities and desires.

Often the best way for leaders to serve employees is to create a low-risk space for them to experiment with their ideas. For example, a servant leader encourages people to use time management, accelerate development, and remove hassle for customers. Then a servant leader celebrates when employees try innovative approaches to make improvements. These small, fast, and cheap experiments minimize risk and encourage people to access their knowledge and skills for other areas of their life. The key is to learn from the success or failure of each experiment.

Effective servant leaders care about others and about helping them succeed as individuals and as a group. Group members can see when a leader cares about their needs and is focused on their success. That service earns him the group’s respect. When a person has that respect, they have earned the title and role of leader.

Servant leaders are teachers, not micro managers. They teach by carefully and comprehensively explaining the “why” behind changes, strategies, projects, and priorities. They carefully avoid weighing in on the “how.” They understand that the people closest to the work have the insights, creativity, and judgment to best solve the most critical problems and find opportunities. People are most engaged when they get a chance to solve the most pressing problems of the organization. Alternatively, an authoritative leader often skips the “why” and simply tells people the “what” and scripts the “how” for them.

The “tell and sell” approach to leadership is not only outdated, but, more importantly, it is counterproductive. Leaders make it almost impossible to achieve desired outcomes when they focus primarily on control and end goals or targets, not the people. The servant leader sets the direction on customer experience, safety, operating excellence, and organic growth. Then a servant leader asks, “How can I help you achieve what we care about?” This question highlights the best in others, which will create far better results than if the leader dictated directions from their removed perspective. Servant leaders believe this approach reveals the untapped creative and performance capabilities of people, especially your people.

Servant leadership entails a deep belief that people are the greatest asset any organization has, and to nurture their individual growth becomes the basis for all organizational development. That growth goes far beyond the limited dimension of financial benefit -- it dives into our core motivations as people.

People want to be engaged and also have some level of control over their environment. A servant leader recognizes that the people doing the work generally have the best ideas about how to improve the processes they participate in. 

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