The Essence of Leadership - Transmission Digest

The Essence of Leadership

What makes a leader great? It might not be the qualities you think. Serving others may just be the distinguishing quality of an excellent leader. Let’s look at nine service-oriented strategies that can help you take your crew to unprecedented levels of success.

The Essence of Leadership

It’s Your Business

Author: Terry Greenhut, Business Editor
Subject Matter: Management
Issue: Leadership

It’s Your Business

  • Author: Terry Greenhut, Business Editor
  • Subject Matter: Management
  • Issue: Leadership

What makes a leader great? It might not be the qualities you think. Serving others may just be the distinguishing quality of an excellent leader. Let’s look at nine service-oriented strategies that can help you take your crew to unprecedented levels of success.

We all know the types of people who make great leaders, right? They’re the brilliant, talented geniuses who are poised to change the industry if not the world; the persuasive, outgoing schmoozers who get along with just about everyone. They are the industry veterans who have done it all and seen it all, or the capable, go-to guys (and gals) who are always first to walk into a room and take charge – or are they?

  • Serving others may just be the distinguishing quality of an excellent leader.

All these types can turn out to be good or terrible leaders. Sure, each of them might have some success at quickly mobilizing a group. But over time, many tend to become less effective because they’re not able to maximize the achievement of each person in the group. They’re more likely to think that their own ideas are the best and simply expect people to do what they’re told. If you want a much better predictor of whether a person will make a great leader, you should simply ask yourself or the person you are interviewing why they want to lead others.

Truly great leaders don’t aspire to lead so that they can have more power, prestige, perks or money. They want to be leaders to be of better service to the greater good. They realize that they can accomplish a lot more with the help of others than they can alone. They apply the spirit of service not only to the mission of the company but also to the people they want to lead.

Here are nine tactics to help you achieve higher levels of success by consistently serving and inspiring greatness in others.

Show them that you care. You may have heard that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and it’s true! Unless your team and your customers truly believe that you have their well-being in mind, you won’t be able to develop the kind of influence that leads to long-lasting relationships or success.

  • You may have heard that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and it’s true!

Consistently showing employees how much you care by doing things like helping to hold up a driveshaft they are struggling with or keeping a droplight in just the right position for them so they can more easily see what they’re doing may be little things to you but it shows them that you are willing to jump right in and work alongside them.

Checking in often with your team either individually or as a group just to see how things are going keeps you in touch and doesn’t intimidate them once they realize you are not doing it to hurt them. Ask whether they’re satisfied with their working conditions and find out why or why not.

Always ask what they think they need to make their jobs easier or turn out better. This will send a clear message that you actually care, especially if you follow up with actions that address any sources of discontent. And don’t forget to frequently measure your own happiness and well-being too. You’ll bring so much more to the table and be better equipped to serve your team members if you feel good about your own physical and emotional condition.

Create a healthy culture of accountability. Being a servant leader doesn’t mean that you can’t demand excellence or hold people accountable. In fact, lax standards would do everyone on your team quite a disservice. If you allow mediocrity to be the standard, you’ll find it difficult to attract and retain talented people, and you’ll set each individual up for failure in the future.

It is definitely in everyone’s best interests to set high expectations and to let people know that they’ll be held accountable. Once you’ve established standards, you should make serving and caring for team members an equal or even higher priority. By doing so, you’ll earn loyalty and boost motivation, resulting in people who do things not because they have to but because they want to. I recommend using “team” language by saying things like, “How can we work together to achieve this goal?” and, “What do you need from me to help us achieve it?”

Ask more and better questions. Highly effective leaders tend to spend more time asking questions of crew members than they do giving orders, the same way effective salespeople ask questions of their customers.

But the questions aren’t about micromanagement or second-guessing; they’re about soliciting input or feedback and finding ways to be of greater service.

I recommend establishing this practice from day one. When you bring a new person onto the crew, have a face-to-face discussion and ask about what goals he or she has: goals for the team or organization, professional goals in general and even personal goals. By obtaining and recording this information, you’ll be in an ideal position to serve employees by helping them achieve their goals. Be sure to check in on a regular basis to see which goals have been achieved, how the rest have evolved and how you can best help right now.

Spend less time talking. In addition to asking more questions, great leaders also tend to spend less time talking during meetings and more time listening. Whenever possible, good leaders make an effort to speak last, speak less than 10% of the time and refrain from offering personal opinions.

  • Great leaders aren’t afraid of being replaced.

By following these simple rules, you’ll create an environment in which people feel safe to speak up and offer ideas. This accomplishes several important leadership objectives. First, you’ll get more input and make the most of the collective intelligence of your team members because you aren’t sending signals about where you personally want things to go. (After all, no one wants to share an idea or opinion the boss won’t like!) Second, because your team will be more involved, they’ll feel more valuable, meaning that you’ll create even more engagement. And third, you’ll get more buy-in from team members because they’re more involved in the creation of ideas, goals and strategies.

Connect work to a higher purpose. Very few people have jobs that are inherently inspiring. However, great leaders are able to help the people they lead see the connection between their (sometimes mundane and frustrating) work and the big picture.

Step one is for you, the leader, to get clear on how your team is helping to improve the lives of customers and making the world a better place in some way. These become the mission and the vision of the team, respectively. Both should be condensed to a simple sentence or two, and both should be something that people can picture in their mind’s eye. For instance, an effective mission for a team of automotive technicians would be, “We help people save money by extending the useful life of their automobiles.” An inspiring vision would be, “Saving the resources of the planet by not having to produce as many new vehicles.” Once the mission and vision are clear, help each team member to see how their individual work contributes to the cause and remind them of both the mission and the vision as often as possible.

Don’t be just a manager. Be a mentor who is developing great human beings. Maybe it’s not just your team that’s feeling uninspired. Maybe you are, too. If that’s the case, make it your number-one leadership goal to develop great human beings. In other words, don’t just evaluate your performance on the basis of how well the team accomplishes the mission. Work to ensure that if any team member is asked the question, “Did you grow personally and professionally as a result of working with your leader?” the answer would be a resounding, “Yes!” Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Teach a class every week or two on skills that you’ve developed. Bonus: This sends the message to your team that you are willing to spend an hour of your salary and theirs just to help them grow.
  • Create a library of personal and professional development books at the shop. You could even start a book club and discuss the topics as a team.
  • If you can afford it, establish a budget for bringing in outside trainers as well.

You can take this concept even further by developing high levels of character in yourself and working to help the people on your team to do the same. Can you imagine what it would be like coming to work each day if your number-one goal as a leader was to help your team members become people of the highest character; people who were devoted to serving and caring for others, and committed to doing the right thing even when it might cost them in the short term? If you’re wondering where to start, keep in mind that your employees will follow your example, so make sure you’re walking the walk before you start talking the talk.

Place the needs of the team above your own. Self-preservation is a basic human instinct. We all want to protect ourselves, our positions and our futures. The problem is, sometimes that impulse causes leaders to hold back from developing their team members. If they know everything that I know and are able to do everything I can do, they might replace me! Well, yes, that’s precisely the point!

Great leaders aren’t afraid of being replaced. In fact, they look to replace themselves as soon as possible by helping their team members develop the requisite experience and skills. Why? It’s a win-win. Think about it: If you empower the people you lead, the team will be much more productive and successful, leaving you free to spend more time growing the business.

  • People are much more likely to follow us when they know that we truly care about them.

Measure the things that really matter. Most of us do a fairly good job of measuring our progress toward achieving goals. In our personal lives, for instance, we measure progress by checking items off our to-do lists, like losing weight or making money. Likewise, companies measure things like sales numbers, expenses and quarterly profits.

What we need to do a better job of measuring is to know who we are and how well we treat each other. When we measure these things, we make a much better effort to improve them. Remember, it’s who we are and how well we treat each other that drive long-term success. As a leader, it’s a good idea to seek feedback on how well you live the values of the organization and how well you treat the members of your team. You should also measure those things in your team members. By doing so, you’ll make it clear that they’re important and that people must develop these areas to be considered for advancement.

Practice mindfulness to become the Ultimate Leader. Most people want to do a better job of serving and caring for the people around them. Mindfulness training helps us close the gap between intention and action. The practice has been proven to be extremely effective at increasing resilience during stressful situations, which will allow you to live up to your ideals of serving and caring for others even when you’re under intense pressure to hit a goal. The practice also gradually makes kindness, compassion and a spirit of service your natural response to the people around you.

Beginning the practice is very simple. Just pick an activity like drinking water and make an effort to let go of thinking about anything else and be fully present for that activity. Commit to being mindful each time you drink water for a week. The next week, continue with drinking water and add another activity. After a couple of months, you’ll be practicing mindfulness during most of your day. You’ll notice that you’re happier, more resilient to stress and more present for the people in your life.

When you focus on serving and caring for the people on your team, you’ll earn their loyalty and build a tremendous amount of influence with them, which is the essence of leadership. Great leaders are able to influence people’s behaviors in ways that help them achieve higher levels of success and thereby create and sustain high-performance crews. There is no better way to build our influence with others than to serve them. People are much more likely to follow us when they know that we truly care about them.

Visit Terry Greenhut at www.TerryGreenhut.com

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