The idea of “servant leadership” has become a cliché. In fact, some of my clients use to roll their eyes when I brought the subject up. But servant leadership is a very powerful concept. It is a simple idea: by placing the needs of your employees, customers, and stakeholders before your own, you inspire loyalty and a high level of performance that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.
As an employer and as a leader, you are asking your team to dedicate themselves to your goals and your agenda each and every workday. And of course, you are paying them to do so. But for the majority of employees, the motivation of a paycheck is not enough to inspire their best effort day in and day out.
French General Napoleon Bonaparte famously stated, while discussing motivation, that “A man does not have himself killed for a half-pence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.”
While you aren’t asking your employees to literally lay their lives on the line, the point is relevant. A paycheck and even the promise of steady employment is not enough to bring out the best in your team. And one of the best ways to “speak to the soul” is by demonstrating to your team that you place their interests before your own.
Most of the business owners I speak to grasp this concept, but often have trouble putting it into practice. Today, I’m going to share four ideas that have been helpful for myself and for many of my clients.
Roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Take the time on a regular basis to literally assist your team. Whether this means manning the customer service line for an hour or helping your shipping department load the truck, working shoulder-to-shoulder with your employees shows that you understand the challenges they face on a daily basis.
Be willing to sacrifice. When you ask others to sacrifice (for instance, to come in an hour early in order to finish a project), make the same sacrifice yourself. When your team sees you living up to the expectations you place on them, they’re far less likely to resent your requests.
Be flexible. Understand that your employees have lives and challenges of their own. When an employee has a sick child, don’t make him or her feel guilty for staying home that day – even if it makes things more difficult for you.
Treat others as you would like to be treated. We’ve all heard the “golden rule”, but do you put it into practice? Whether it’s criticizing an employee in private rather than in public or respecting the opinions of others, treating your team well inspires gratitude, trust, and loyalty.
Servant leadership is good business. Servant leadership will inspire a dedicated, passionate workforce… and it is that workforce which will enable your business to grow into a world-class enterprise.