By Ronald M. Allen
The emotional high of going to work and being among a group of productive associates, fellow employees with a common goal and supported by an understood incentive, moves people to act like no other force.
The key elements are that the employees feel part of something bigger than themselves. They have a sense of purpose. They are supported by the correct incentives to put forth their best efforts. They come each and every day to give so that the team will receive the benefit of their contribution and be recognized.
When a leader executes accordingly, this show of confidence in one’s fellow employees speaks to the security of the leader and the trust they show in their employees. But before you can learn how to improve your own leadership, you must understand what qualities make up a servant leader.
Here are some of the characteristics of successful servant leaders:
• They are charged with creating collaborative opportunities across all areas of the firm.
• They must provide an environment that rewards employees for coming together and forging alliances that in turn produce greater outcomes than what had been realized before.
• They must develop themselves first, to show through actions how both personal and professional development is executed upon.
• They must come each and every day charged with the energy that is infectious and encourages their fellow employees to act accordingly.
• They are coaches and put in place a system, processes and mechanisms to ensure the success of their employees and the stated objectives for the company.
• They must seek to believe and act, as Hamlet said, “To thine own self be true.”
One’s ability to create collaborative opportunities can be as simple as the work I performed when with the McKinsey&Company social initiative, Generation. My area of responsibility was to introduce businesses in the Delaware market to our class of young adults who, upon initial introductions and a series of interviews, would be considered for employment. It was a four-way win. The company partner wins because their cost to hire was reduced by 23%. The young adult wins because they are brought to opportunities that they may not have known existed. The initiative wins because it delivers on its mission and, most importantly, the community wins because residents are earning a living and typically supporting the local economy.
In order to help others, however, one must help one’s self first. A journey of self-development includes making an emotional and intellectual discovery of your own personality types. Interestingly enough, as you move through the various modalities of personal development you can decide if a type is beneficial or not and act accordingly.
Being the exemplar is crucial in order to manage others so they manage themselves accordingly. If I tell you what to do but you do not see me doing it, you simply won’t do what is asked. On the other hand, if you see me acting in the manner I profess, then you are more likely to follow suit. This is leadership by example.
Sustaining a high level of performance and being active every day requires a system that supports this behavior. The notion of active distraction defenses begins to manage the daily impositions we all face. Supporting this self-management tool is to have a decision minimization process that employs critical thinking to block actions that drain your energy. To round out these action steps, one must put into place emotional leverage: a thought process that uses triage methodology to eliminate minimal activities and selects activities that optimize desired outcomes that are mission critical.
Since most of us, by the numbers, do not maintain a culture of self-development, the servant leader is charged with setting up a system that supports employees so that they identify the goals and objectives they are to achieve and put in place a process that supports the necessary actions that an employee must follow in order to be successful. To enhance this system of success, the servant leader has to put in place the mechanism that encourages, maintains and adjusts behavior as necessary during and at the time of need.
Each trait above stands individually and collectively supports the greater good of all employees in particular and the organization in general. In fact, this approach is tied into securing the greatest potential for achieving the corporate strategy with a top-down design for success.
As a first-time supervisor or manager, exhibiting these traits shows a level of maturity typically not seen at this level of personnel at a company. Middle managers who have developed some level of an operational process would do well to adopt these traits to engender support from their many reports. It also demonstrates their capability and growth potential to upper management.Being capable of self-development that feeds the needs for the personal growth of a team is unique in today’s workplace of highly individual efforts. At the division and directors level, exhibiting the behavior of the servant leader sends a clear message to all employees that this is a nurturing environment: one that upholds the value of its employees and, moreover, respects its employees as people.
Leaders at the highest levels of a firm ensure that those who are at the lower levels of the organization are treated with respect and their growth is as significant as the top level executives.
What is most interesting about this model for management is that it applies as much to the business environment as it does to one’s personal and family life. The more you can blend the personal interests of an individual with that of their professional lives, the tighter the bond and commitment realized during times of most need. Yet many managers are not introduced to this perspective and lose the advantage of supporting through example and constructive coaching.
The discipline needed to execute in this manner requires maturity and self-awareness of intent. Exhibiting this behavior strikes a chord with those at the lower levels of the business, showing them what is truly valued in the workplace and calling on upper management to establish standards upon which to raise up their respective people.