“Do as I say, not as I do.” Know any leaders like this? Probably. You may even be one yourself without realizing it. For instance, if you routinely urge your team members to stay late to finish a project, but you head out of the office right at closing time to go bicycling, your team members could become resentful and lose trust in you. Similarly, if you scold your team members for taking breaks that are too long but then turn around and take three-hour lunches most days, it could be bad for morale.
The best servant leaders tend to be those who lead teams by example. They practice what they preach, living the difference between “leader” and “servant leader.” So, how can you tap into your inner authenticity to lead a team honestly?
By now, you should know yourself reasonably well. Take that self-knowledge to heart when you develop and implement guidelines or rules. For instance, you may require that your call center agents receive regular, ongoing training. Good, but what about you? Will you make an effort to receive regular trainings as well? If you want to be an authentic leader, you will. Ditto with any rule or guideline you set, whether it relates to attendance, personal calls, social media, punctuality, patience with customers or something else.
A note of caution: Don’t become a “martyr.” Say that you routinely encourage employees to take the vacation days that are due them, but you rarely go on vacation yourself. It may be your personal preference to stay at work, and you really do want employees to have their vacations. However, you risk making your team members feel guilty or like they’re doing something wrong if they take time off.
Many people are hypocritical in their own ways. Bosses, however, don’t have as much leeway to be hypocritical as employees do. Take a situation in which a boss criticizes employees for hanging up on callers mid-sentence but who does the same thing. The same principle applies to a boss who goes on tirades about employees interrupting others but who is just as guilty of that flaw. It’s hard for employees to take bosses seriously when they commit the very sins they lambaste employees for.
The truth sometimes hurts, so bosses may try to sugarcoat things or hope that team members will read between the lines. If you do this, you’re not authentic. There is no need to be overly blunt or hurtful, but suppose that one of your call center agents has low first-call resolution numbers. If you say something to the team like, “We all need to be mindful of how to improve our first-call resolution numbers,” that is needlessly vague and could worry all of the members that their numbers are lacking.
Instead, it’s more honest and authentic to discuss the issue with the underperforming member. Be clear about what numbers you expect, how, why and when. You can convey this information factually without judgment or being mean. You can even be positive and upbeat about it if that naturally fits your personality.
Servant Leaders lead by example. They hold themselves to the same standards they set for their employees, servant leaders strive to avoid hypocrisy, and they communicate well with team members, who deserve to be told about issues clearly rather than being made to guess.