Once you have employees, your business changes. Leadership isn’t defined by that you lead, but how you lead. Who do you put first at your business? Yourself? Your team? Your customers? There are no right or wrong answers, but they all form different types of leaders with different strengths. When I joined the Vision team, I also brought them a new leadership style. I’m a big believer in servant leadership, and it’s through the strengths of this style I’ve helped guide the company through some of our darkest days, especially for myself.
What Servant Leadership Means
My first responsibility as a leader is to serve my employees, full stop. Everything comes from or comes after that. This isn’t only about making sure employees have the information and tools to succeed in their jobs, but also to achieve personal growth. I work for my staff, I make sure their needs are met before my own. Because of that, they are happier, healthier, and grow better into their positions. And this works for me: my joy comes from having an amazing staff and making them happy, that they are paid before I am, etc., etc.
Let’s put the altruism aside for a moment and be clear: I do this because it works. My staff gain the skills, tools, and mindset to tackle problems, be productive, and work independently. Our relationship is smoother and doesn’t strain under tension. They are happier (which makes me happier). This concept also isn’t new or rare: it was around far before 1977 when Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase “servant leadership,” and it’s used at some of the top-level companies around the world. It’s not traditional leadership, but it gets results.
Great Leadership is Great People Management
When I consult with businesses about executive leadership, regardless of industry, size, or year established, people management is key. A few core concepts (for any leadership style, not just servant leadership):
- The best leadership is taught. The best leadership is purposeful and needs to be learned – which is why I teach it.
- People management is a key leadership skill. Many people who assume leadership positions or are promoted into them never learn how to manage people, which leads to failure for them and their team.
- Your best asset is your people: grow them. More than training people on their jobs, you need to be building them up. Help them grow as people and managers in their own right.
- Setting examples for your employees. People look to their leader for guidance: this is where I think servant leadership really shines. Because I focus on serving them, they focus on serving me and each other. Everyone wins.
Servant Leadership During a Crisis
In 2020, my company, Vision Advertising, faced the economic hit of COVID along with my clients, while I personally struggled with Thyroid Cancer (still being treated). It wasn’t easy to balance the needs of my staff with the sudden medical needs of my own, but it was worth it. Because I put my team first and made sure they had the headspace and tools they needed, my business is still here as I return from medical leave.
People Leave Managers, Not Companies.
That is a quote from Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. COVID is putting an incredible strain on every company, forcing you and your staff to come together or fall apart. Even after we “get past” COVID, the actions you and your leadership team do right now, the calls you make for your staff, will affect who stays and who goes after. Because I’ve put my team first, they know I have their backs. It helps us all get through this.
Retaining talent, keeping morale up, keeping your team focused and growing: these are the strengths of servant leadership. For my team and me, servant leadership works. It’s what has kept us going during the one-two punch of COVID and cancer. It keeps us motivated and ready to tackle the next problem.
After all, 2020 isn’t over yet.
Need a hand? I offer business consultations for everything from business strategy to marketing plans. If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, check out our sister site Vision University for free and paid courses. And of course, there’s plenty of great articles on our blog.