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How Leaders who Serve are Those who Excel

February 12, 2016 Matt Rocco

The dramatic globalization of industry and the rapid enhancement of technology have changed the modern business environment forever—and we must expect continued change to become the norm for the foreseeable future. In this fast-paced global market, businesses of all sizes and across all industries are called upon to move more rapidly than ever before while doing more with less.

Profits, sales, margins and more are all scrutinized at a very granular level. Globalization and technology may be the drivers for this change but proper leadership is the only way to truly realize this transformation in any form that can be sustainable. Leadership has been around for some time so we should be well-versed in how to lead. Yet, are we?

A New Leadership Paradigm

Today’s leadership must also change if we expect to do what we are tasked with. It cannot simply be about lording over others to make them follow. It is not about barking out orders and checking the bottom line. At its heart, effective leadership today must center around the empowerment of people. Instead of thinking about leading people, leaders must think about serving people.

Adopting a new mindset focused on what they can do for their employees and teams is what the best leaders today can and must do. How can they bring out the best in people? What can they give to their employees that would help them excel?

This paradigm shift does not negate the need for and importance of strong leadership but it turns leadership on its head with a focus on serving those who are led. At Etech Global Services, we refer to this concept as servant leadership and we have seen the power it offers many times. Following are some of the principles by which servant leadership can be manifested and put into action.

· Share Power

Power is not something to be wielded only by “leaders”. That frame of mind leads to micro-management which essentially tells people they are not trusted to make decisions or perform their own job functions. Give people the ability to act independently and take ownership of their responsibilities. Find opportunities to let team members take the reins at brainstorming meetings or team huddles. Encourage them along the way and show them how to lead.

· Seek Feedback

You don’t know everything and you can’t make appropriate decisions without input. Asking people what they think is a way of telling them that they are valued. Be the leader who listens and solicits input from others—including your employees. By understanding others’ experiences, you can make choices that positively impact their work environments and help them to be more productive.

· Have a Unified Goal—to Please Customers

Take a cue from Zappos, the shoe etailer that boasts a goal of 100% customer satisfaction. The tagline on their logo even says “Powered by Service.” Focusing everyone’s efforts on a single goal is the only way that you can really expect to achieve it—and what could be a better single goal for your company than to please your customers? This outward view acts as a constant reminder to all team members why the company is even in business and that is never about serving the business but about serving customers.

· Involve Teams in Embracing Change

With change being the new normal, the more you can help your teams be part of changes that occur, the more likely they will be to accept them and transition gracefully. Work with your employees to identify how they are impacted by different things and have them be part of developing a strategy for how to shift as need be.

· Serve, Don’t Dominate

This should be the mantra for any servant leader. There is no such thing as winning by intimidation. good servant leadership creates environments in which everyone can be successful—including yourself. Set people up to excel by giving them what they need and letting them be the experts at what they do.

· Break Down Silos

Everyone can and should have a sense of ownership of their own role and functions but good leadership does not allow this to go so far as to create a territorial atmosphere. If such barriers should arise, break them down and replace them with a conscious spirit of cooperation. Make it clear how the efforts of many together are what create the end results.

· Serve and Lead by Example

You cannot expect anyone to do something that you ask if you are not also willing to do it yourself. If it is cooperation you want, it is cooperation you must give. Be the change you want to see and embody the characteristics your organization needs to produce a culture of positivity, teamwork and leadership.

· Be Humble

Avoid taking all of the credit for things gone well. Be sure that everyone gets fair billing for positive results and you never come across as patting yourself on the back for what it took a team to achieve. At the same time, be willing to admit when you are wrong. Demonstrate how to learn from mistakes and you will create an environment of accountability and ongoing learning. What we learn from these moments can be valuable intellectual capital.

In the end, servant leadership is all about intentionally finding ways to motivate and inspire others by empowering them. It makes the team members the center of everything, not the leaders.

Going Against the Grain

We live in a world where focusing on the self is taught at seemingly all points. From our first days we naturally learn to train others to focus on us as well. When we are hungry, we cry and someone feeds us. When we are wet, we cry and someone changes us. As we get older, that egocentric world should diminish but our culture seems to hold on tight to it. Even the word “selfie” become part of our everyday jargon and is recognized in the dictionary. How many times have you heard, “Sure, but first let me take a selfie…”?

The biggest challenge we have as servant leaders is to not get consumed in the “All About Me” age. It’s easier than we would like to admit to get caught up on this treadmill. Soon we are viewing a solar system in which our selfie is in the center, not the sun.

While we can certainly have fun with cute pictures, our focus should ultimately be on being selfless. This does not mean thinking anything less of ourselves but thinking more about others. It is truly amazing how much differently we can view the world when our primary focus is outward, not inward. It’s a shift that sounds subtle but is anything but. Getting out of ourselves is essential if we want to have the influence as leaders that we need to have.

Learn from the Best

There have been many outstanding examples of servant leadership in our history but the greatest embodiment of a servant leader walked the earth more than 2,000 years ago. In everything Jesus did, He did for others—down to giving His life for us. Jesus left us perhaps the most modest yet the best examples of what it means to be a servant leader. Some of the ways that we can follow in His footsteps are outlined here:

· Listen

Being selfless starts with putting your agenda aside and putting others’ agendas front and center by actively listening to those you serve. This is the only way to truly understand other peoples’ needs and to see things from their points of view—which can be very different from yours. This approach does takes time and commitment from you but pays off big. When one of your team members comes to you, clear your desk, maybe even turn off or put away your PC, tablet or phone.

As they begin talking, look into their eyes and show them you are engaged and that you care about what they are saying. Do not jump ahead in your mind to think about your response but simply listen with intent. Give affirmations of understanding both verbally and non-verbally. This can include head nods and other facial expressions as well as saying like “I see” or “that makes sense.” There may be nothing more convincing that you can do to show someone you care and that they are important than to give them your time and undivided attention.

· Be Empathetic

Before you shake your head and think “Yeah, I know”, stop for a moment. This term is used a lot but do you really understand it? How do you show true empathy for another person? The best way I can think of is to really try and understand how that person is feeling. The old saying, “put yourself in their shoes” may have been used a few thousand times but that’s because it really says it all. Do not let this phrase become just a trite saying because it hold great power.

As you move through life and have a greater range of personal and professional experiences, you are more likely to find that you have had some type of experience similar to what someone else is facing. This will give you a good idea of how someone might be feeling at a given time and can facilitate your empathy toward them.

A word of caution here—being empathetic does not mean letting yourself be taken advantage of. Understanding is not the same as agreement. You do not need to think someone is right in order to address their needs. When you understand how a person feels about a situation and how it is impacting them or their ability to perform their job, you are better positioned to lead and serve them through it.

· Celebrate Others’ Victories

Selfless leaders find the accomplishments of those they lead to be truly rewarding. Selfless leaders seek out opportunities to privately and publicly praise those on their teams. When your employees thrive, why do anything other than to celebrate with them? This is an amazing way to showcase their achievements and let them see their leader acknowledging others.

As a college athlete in the 1980’s, I played in an era when celebrating achievements was frowned upon. If I made a big 3-point shot, my coach would say, “Don’t start celebrating. You only did what you are expected to do. Act like you have been there before.”

While I agree with the old coach that self-celebrating is not a good thing and can increase our selfishness, I do believe that it is not only perfectly acceptable but very important to celebrate the successes of others. These celebrations should be authentic and send clear messages to people that they matter. Being recognized like this can be a huge motivator for people and is something that everyone deserves and needs from time to time.

· Value Results with Relationships

Let’s face it, results matter in the business world. However, results of any sort are not possible without people and at the end of the day that means relationships. The best leaders understand the inherent tension between results and relationships and they are able to find ways to manage that tension, knowing that it will always exist.

Success is not just about results but about the people behind the results. This means you must have a keen focus on both what you do and how you do it. Pushing so hard to reach a certain goal with no regard for people along the way might deliver a short-term goal but will erode away success over time. By valuing the relationships that drive results, you will unleash tremendous power.

· Walk the Talk

Before you do anything, align your actions with your intentions. Stop and ask yourself if what you are about to do is consistent with what you say you believe, what you say you want and what you ask of your team members. If it is, then you will live and act like you really believe the things you are saying—and others will take note of that. If it is not—and be honest with yourself here—then you must rethink your actions before you take them.

When your actions accurately reflect what you preach, you will establish trust and credibility which is critical because this makes people want to follow your lead. Your actions become contagious in a way and people want to emulate them. This is akin to using peer pressure in a positive way. People want to follow something and what is held up as popular or good, especially by someone in a leadership position, is ripe for replication by others. As your team sees how you embrace and live the culture, they will do the same.

I so very firmly believe that servant leadership makes a difference in the world. I believe this because I have personally seen it in action many times. I have worked hard over my career to live this myself.

While business results are seen in the boardroom, a process improvement, the stack rankings or the balance sheet that is not where they truly start. The right kind of results—those that take into account the how as well as the what—start in the heart because they start with intention. Servant leadership is more than just a concept—it is a way of life and it requires conscious intent that naturally includes others, not just the self.

This blog originally posted on Contact center pipeline.