Qualities of a Good Servant Leader

Servant leadership is one of this decade’s management buzz words, but what does it really mean? Take a look at some of the characteristic traits of a true servant leader:

Lead by example; Leaders who don’t walk the talk lose trust. If you want your team members to display certain behaviours, you need to display them first. You cannot ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. For example, if you expect your team to work late, do so as well. Showing your team that you are one of them and their equal in being responsible for outcomes will go a long way in building trust.

Over-communicate; Transparency builds trust. Secrets destroy it.

True leaders are direct and honest. And they communicate all the time. Lack of information creates assumptions that are usually negative or disruptive to team’s motivation and productivity. Err on the side of over-communicating, always.

People can smell you hiding something a mile away. If there is some information you can’t share with the team just yet, tell them what you can and show them you have got their backs. This is especially critical in the times of reorganisation or layoffs. Always follow the rule: “tell the truth, point to hope.”

Admit your mistakes and acknowledge your limitations; Publicly own up to your mistakes when you make them. Admitting you were wrong isn’t a sign of weakness, but strength. Acknowledge the mistakes and outline the new course.

No one knows everything. We all have our limitations. Build a team around you that complements you – and each other – in knowledge, skills-sets, and capabilities. Don’t try to do everything. Let your team members drive certain projects and outcomes. That will make them feel valued and will make you look good. But always have their back when something doesn’t go according to plan.

Keep your promises and stick to your commitments; No one trusts those who don’t keep their word. So keep your promises and, if you make a commitment, stick to it.

Every now and then, however, there are circumstances outside your control that might come into play. In those cases your team will understand, as long as you display this behaviour consistently in times when this doesn’t apply.

Trust your team;Hire the best and trust them to lead. Trust is a two-way street. If you don’t trust your team, they won’t trust you.

And always remember: take the blame, but give away the credit. Acknowledge people for their contributions. The more credit you give away, the more motivated your team will be able to move mountains for you. And when something goes wrong, acknowledge the fact that the mistake was made under your leadership and don’t throw your team under the bus.

Ask for feedback; No one is perfect. All of us learn as we go, even towards the end of our career. Ask your team for feedback: what you can be doing as a leader to help them be more productive, how you can improve their work environment, what process you can change for the whole team to be more effective, how you can better communicate with them, etc. And when the feedback is provided, accept it with grace and say “thank you.” It’s not easy to hear constructive feedback, but it helps you improve as a manager and as a professional.

Don’t play favourites;A double standard is the fastest way to trust deterioration. Playing favourites destroys strong teams. Don’t do it! Just don’t!

Treat everyone fairly; always treat everyone fairly. Have the same set of expectations for every team member and create team rules that you expect everyone to respect and follow, such as a “don’t gossip” rule, for example. Some leaders create the team rules collectively with their teams, ensuring that everyone agrees to uphold the same set of standards.

Setting clear expectations upfront, including clear roles and responsibilities, ensures that there are no surprises. This takes extra stress out of the daily routine. Each employee knows what they are expected to deliver and are not surprised during their performance review discussion.

Don’t gossip;Gossip kills trust. Effective leaders set – and follow – a rule of not discussing one team member with another behind his/her back.

Listen; Take the time to get to know every single member of your team.

Ask questions, consistently. And then listen. You will be surprised what you can learn if you keep quiet during discussions or meetings and just let others talk.

Act with consistency;Consistency is key to great leadership. Consistency of acts, behaviours, moods, expectations. I’ve worked for managers before who would be happy one day and infuriated the other, who would set out one path one day and totally change it the next day. This creates uncertainty, frustration, and distrust. I am not saying don’t pioneer change and stay agile. I am saying that whenever possible provide your team with unwavering support that they can rely on and a set of rules and expectations that will be their guiding star through good times and bad.

Put the success of the team before your own;When your team knows that you are in it for your own success, they won’t give you their best ever. Instead show them that you put them ahead of your own ambitions (or at a minimum let them in on your ambitions and give them a seat at the table in achieving them). And again, I can’t stress it enough: take the blame, give away the credit.

At the end of the day, success of your team is your success as well. The two go hand in hand. But in your desire to climb the corporate (or start-up) ladder, don’t leave behind or forget those who made it happen.

Trust leads to loyalty. And loyalty leads to people doing their best to deliver results for you and the company. To earn trust and respect you have to give trust and respect, as well as look out for your people. And if you do, there will be no limit to what you can achieve.

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