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Overcoming Organizational Adversity with a Servant Heart

January 14, 2020 Kaylene Eckels

Most team members appreciate a leader who is committed to helping them grow and achieve their personal and professional goals.   A leader who is heavily invested in this mindset, also called a servant leader, helps team members develop & build upon their strengths which in turn will make the team and organization stronger. When your organization experiences a setback or something goes wrong, these leadership skills get put to the test. You may be tempted in these times of stress to adopt a more dictative or authoritative stance to maintain controls, however, a servant leader will remain consistent with serving the needs of the team. The best way through a rough patch, is the same way you built a strong team to begin with – by being a servant first.

Lean on the Skills You’ve Honed

Consistency is a leadership quality that most team members appreciate. It communicates stability and focus. Maintaining the servant leadership skills you use during times when everything is going smoothly can reassure your team and lets them know that although there may be some turmoil, everything around them is not going to change suddenly. In fact, some of these very strategies can help pull your organization out of a slump:

  • Adaptability – Adjusting a process that is not working as well as you planned can often resolve major problems. By modeling this tactic to your team, you show them that you are able to be flexible. You also demonstrate that you are willing to lead by example by re-examining something that is not working well. The humility and maturity required to adapt to solve problems can increase your team’s confidence in you. Reinventing continuously with your team demonstrates that you value adaptability and creativity, and you are there to support them through the process.
  • Connection – During times of adversity, it is imperative that you maintain your connection with your team and support their collaboration. You may be tempted to withdraw and figure out the problem on your own. On the surface, this may seem like a good way to save time. In reality, though connecting your team with the decision-making process can help everyone get on board with it more quickly. It’s easier to implement a solution that the whole team created together than it is to convince others to try something new that they have no ownership in. Leaders skilled in servant leadership understand the importance of listening to their team members. This type of collaboration often leads to the best solutions. A servant leader is one who is focused on ensuring the best ideas win, not being a hero or proving they have all the answers.
  • Selflessness – One quality of a good leader that tends to rise to the surface during hard times is a willingness to put the team and the business ahead of selfish concerns. A servant leader understands the priority is to take care of the team and help those they serve achieve their personal and professional goals. You must be willing to support those you serve through giving of your time, creating opportunities, and by ensuring the necessary resources are available. You may not have to go so far as to take a pay cut to raise everyone else’s salary but you must be willing to put everything on the table to support your team’s long term success.  You cannot achieve long term success without ensuring those around you have what they need to be successful.   This may require putting some of your own personal goals on hold to get your business back on track and safeguard your team in the process.

Continue Pursuing Professional Development Goals

Putting your own goals on hold does not mean that you should stop growing, in fact, the opposite.  Growth requires growth, and to grow your team you must continue to grow your own skills.  Failure to do so could stunt the growth of your team members. As much as 87% of millennials, likely the largest portion of your workforce, consider access to professional development opportunities as one of the key factors in engagement.  Always remember that one of the main goals of servant leadership is to empower people to take your place. No organizational problem is large enough to justify a lax approach to leadership development and thoughtful succession planning. You need to continue to take steps to further your development as well as that of your team:

  • Make regular appointments to discuss goals. Each member of your team deserves to have time each month to discuss their professional goals and get advice on how to pursue them. These check-ins don’t have to be lengthy, but you should set aside enough time to discuss their strengths and learn about the skills they want to work to improve.
  • Suggest professional development opportunities. Once you know where someone wants to take their career, it is easier to find learning opportunities that help them get there. Keep up this practice during difficult times to remind team members of their future potential. 
  • Set a realistic timeline. A common struggle for people who want to advance their careers is knowing when they’re ready to take the next step. Loyal team members may feel stuck when the organization is not growing at a pace they expect or they do not see a clear roadmap for growth. Continuing to discuss goals in the context of their unique professional growth can put their minds at ease.

A servant leadership management style can increase team members’ level of commitment to the organization even through adversity. Credibility is tested during these times. Employing the leadership skills that work well during times of growth when there are setbacks reaffirm your commitment to your team and will help you set your organization on a stronger course.

This blog was earlier published on LinkedIn.