“Servant leadership” has been a business buzzword the past three decades. But in the 1,000 leadership presentations I’ve given in 14 countries over the past decade, I’ve discovered that many leaders have a misguided understanding of what it is or how to apply it. I’ll use my space here as a crash-course in servant leadership and how to practically put it to work in your dealership.
The essence of servant leadership involves a dedicated process to add value to others, rather than wait for them to add value to you. In fact, when you become more engaged with all aspects of people development, your more capable team is empowered to create reciprocal value that comes back to you and the organization exponentially. On the other hand, if your mindset is such that you believe that your people exist primarily to serve you, you aren’t a leader, you’re a tyrant.
Following are three responsibilities of servant leaders:
1. Servant leaders create clarity. They make it very clear where the team is going and what is expected of them in terms of performance and behaviors throughout the journey. Servant leaders add value to people by defining the future in terms of vision and creating performance standards and core values. By doing so they eliminate gray areas and provide a filter for followers to evaluate decisions and opportunities. Once people know what where they’re headed, what they stand for, their expected role in the process, they can operate with more speed, efficiency and resolve in their daily work routine.
2. Servant leaders take the human capital they’ve been entrusted with and make it more valuable tomorrow than it is today through training, coaching, and mentoring. Training imparts skill and knowledge. Coaching provides feedback on performance. It reinforces the positive and confronts and corrects deficit behaviors.
Training and coaching are for everyone. Mentoring is for the few: the best and brightest, those with the highest upward potential. To mentor properly requires a significant time investment from the servant leader. Thus, one can mentor very few people at a time: ideally, no more than three, although one is preferable. Mentoring differs from training and coaching in that the leader spends more time with the mentee demonstrating what good performance looks like. But he also gives this person more responsibility, latitude and discretion. He empowers them at a higher level. The servant leader will also provide resources and experiences that accelerate the growth of those he mentors. A servant leader’s mentees oftentimes makes up his or her inner circle. And the development of a leader’s inner circle members goes a long way in determining the ultimate success of the leader himself.
Remember, servant leadership is about adding value to others and then reaping the benefits as the people you impact create even more value that returns to you and the organization multiplied. There is little you can do that adds more value to people than when you invest time with them and provide them with the tools they need to become more capable, and less dependent upon you as a result. Keep this in mind: weak leaders want to be needed; servant leaders want to be succeeded. Which are you?
Incidentally, in January we are launching a corporate version of mentoring with The Anderson Leadership Institute for Excellence. It is a three-year development program for dealerships and their key personnel. We will limit participation to 20 clients. If you’d like to be kept abreast of this exclusive corporate mentoring opportunity, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you updates.
3. Servant leaders hold others accountable for results. Once you’ve provided clarity of vision and expectations, and equipped your people with the tools they need to meet those standards, then you have the right to expect results. Even more, you have a responsibility to hold people accountable for what you expect of them. Servant leaders care enough to confront team members when they’re off track or underperforming. They understand that it serves no one’s best interests to allow anyone to underachieve and fail to reach their potential. Nor can a servant leader serve the team well overall by allowing weak links to break momentum, diminish morale and corrupt the culture. Thus, servant leaders place an iron fist inside of the velvet glove, and balance care with candor, compassion with consequences.
As you can ascertain, “serving” is not soft. Contrary to the common impression of old school car impresarios serving is not a load of Pollyanna happy hot tub talk designed to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy. Rather, it takes strength to serve, which is why so few leaders do it well. Too many leaders are content to sit back in their office and manage the value that others create, rather than step into the trenches, break a sweat, and make their people more valuable so that they could create more value.
Here’s the fourth and final thought on servant leadership: Servant leadership does not mean you do people’s work for them. While there are occasions when the leader must roll up his or her sleeves to assist team members with their work, persisting in such nonsense makes your people more dependent upon you, rather than less, rendering you as an enabler of their inevitable mediocrity and performance plateaus.