Posts Tagged ‘Servant Leadership’

An unpopular way to inspire

In a world where everyone appears to be shouting loudly (whether verbally or through the written word in their social media posts) to push others to think differently and act differently, it can seem as if forcing one’s hand is the only way to bring about change.

How did this become the norm, and when did the art of inspirational leadership lose its foothold?

It was the 14th century when the word inspire first came into use, carrying much of the same meaning then which it does today: to influence, move, or guide, not by force, but by a divine power, empowering followers to action. It was a metaphorical use of it’s Latin root inspirare which means to breathe or blow into to create something new [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inspire]. We figuratively refer to this when we say things like, “that vacation was a much-needed breath of fresh air”, or when a particular confrontation is stifling, “I need to get some air”.

I can’t help but think of a blow-up life raft, which, when uninflated, is rather useless, but when filled with air, is capable of fulfilling its intended purpose of floating upon turbulent waters to carry its passengers where they need to be. Inspirational leadership is like that. It’s the act of breathing life into others so they are then capable of being their best self, not only fulfilling their intended purpose, but motivated to rise above to create and achieve great things.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and do more, you are a leader.”

— John Quincy Adams

Back to the yelling. When you hear inflamed insults, name-calling, and outbursts of verbal venom spewing forth, do you feel inspired to dream more, learn more, and do more? Do you experience inspirare, your heart and soul filled and brimming over with the oxygen-rich motivation to become your best self and accomplish bigger, better things? Or instead, do the angry affronts leave you feeling rather deflated?

Inspirational leadership is the ability to mobilize individuals and groups by articulating a clear, compelling and motivational vision for the future. Those who possess this superpower (I jest, we all are capable of it, with some superpower effort!) are able to bring people together in unified efforts to reach an intelligible, enthralling objective. And one very effective way to do this is to be a servant leader.

Servant leader. It’s a phrase first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in his essay The Servant as Leader. It’s not the most provocative phrase, is it? Where’s the passion, the persuasiveness, the power that we so often associate with leadership? For many, the word servant evokes images of weakness and ineffectiveness. If this is you, I challenge you to allow for a paradigm shift, for this humble, quieter style of leadership may very well be the most powerful breath of fresh air needed to inspire others.

Leaders who practice servant leadership focus on others’ needs and objectives, and seek to understand the why behind those needs and objectives. They are able to see and appreciate others’ perspectives. They actively look for ways to increase others’ satisfaction and make themselves available, with gladness, to offer assistance.

Think of someone you know who truly understands you, who ‘gets’ your hopes and dreams, and actively does as much as they can to help make them happen. They listen to you. They validate your viewpoints. They take time out to be with you, show an interest in your life, and truly care. When asked, they are happy to offer support to help you be successful. They celebrate your achievements and mourn your losses, by your side.

If you are so fortunate to have someone like this in your life, a servant leader, you understand the positive impact of the inspirare they provide. Imagine if all of us had these life-breathers encircling and lifting us up. In his article in the Small Business Chronical, Fraser Sherman outlines how servant leadership, in the workplace, can boost morale. He notes “Employees feel valued and they know you are looking out for them. That inspires them to work with more enthusiasm and [better] serve the customers, which benefits your bottom line.” [https://smallbusiness.chron.com/advantages-servant-leadership-style-11693.html#] Servant leaders also encourage a collaborative workplace, and provide a model of authenticity where employees, in turn, feel safe enough to be authentic, deepening levels of trust within the organization.

Palena Neale, Ph.D., writes in her Forbes article, “Why Servant Leadership is More Important Than Ever“, that our current “new normal” with different ways of operating, sickness, layoffs, furloughs, and at-home employees make this novel style of leadership vital. She writes, “Wider societal impacts include adverse effects on the global economy. This calls for a more comprehensive, communal leadership approach: leadership that is focused on serving others.”[https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/05/26/why-servant-leadership-is-more-important-than-ever/#207f37642861]

In contrast, think of leaders you know who are not on the lookout for the needs of their teams. They focus on their own objectives and often diminish the needs of others. They don’t make time for those ‘beneath’ them, and when they do interact, they are distracted, quick to give quick, “off the shelf” advice or solutions, hurrying the conversation along. They fail to go above and beyond, and team members find themselves saying things like, “I hate to bother you…” or “I’m sorry to take your time but…” at the start of any ask. These individuals tend to speak poorly of others (leaving you to wonder what they say about you when you’re not there), point blame away from themselves, and rarely stand up for the underdog.

Sadly, leaders such as this leave their teams feeling deflated and discouraged.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

— Albert Schweitzer

It’s easy to point the finger at those in leadership. “If only leaders would figure this stuff out!”, we say in exasperation. However, we’re talking about emotional intelligence here — that ability to exhibit self-awareness and self-management, and tune into others’ emotions and manage our relationships with them appropriately. If you’re ever tried to control someone else’s behavior, you probably know how well that turns out. We can only change ourselves. So instead of waiting on those who bear the title, let’s instead take the brave task of looking inward as to how we can improve our own inspirational leadership skills. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Get to know people. Ask others how they are doing and really stop to listen. Use open-ended questions to understand the why behind their needs, hopes, dreams. One of my favorite coaching questions, after someone has shared, is,”What else?”
  • Keep an eye out for small ways you can be of service to others. Open the door for someone, offer up the best parking space, spend an extra 5 minutes listening. Offer to buy a colleague’s coffee. Give a sincere compliment. These little gives can help build a new habit of service.
  • Schedule time for others. I know you’re busy. We all are. If it helps, set aside a small amount of time each week on your calendar as ‘Others’ time, so doing something for others actually DOES fit into your schedule.
  • Adopt a yes attitude for a while. When others make requests, think how you CAN help them instead of all the reasons you can’t. If it’s a no, it’s a no, but before you commit to the no, consider alternate ways you could turn it into a yes.
  • Keep your promises. Nothing sucks the air out of someone like a broken promise. Be realistic in what you can do and if you do agree to help someone, make that the priority. You will always have ‘better’ things come up…other opportunities and demands which compete for your time and attention. Though those things may be more attractive — stick to your word.
  • Become an over-deliverer. It’s one thing to meet someone’s needs, but going above and beyond can inspire others to new heights. Again, start small. If someone needs five minutes of your time, offer them ten. If they ask to have coffee, take them out to lunch. If they need an hour off work to tend to stressful events at home, if possible, tell them to take the day.
  • Develop the habit of follow-up. We all appreciate it when someone gives us the time of day, but if it’s a one-off incident, the value of that connection begins to fade with time. Follow up with them. Check in with them, and ask about details you discussed last time. If you’re one of those people who says, “I’m not good with names — let alone details!”, write down the things they share with you and review before your next encounter.

Servant leaders have a desire to be the change someone else needs. These days, it’s not the most popular way of leading, and surely won’t get you a lot of attention. And for most of us, it doesn’t come naturally, and it doesn’t come easily. But it is a skill set worth developing. Not only will your efforts breathe life into those around you to be their best, they just may inspire you to discover your own purpose and direction as well.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

The History of You

Article contributed by guest author Paige Dest.

Most of us probably never imagined just two months ago that we’d be in the place we are right now –  socially isolated from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – those we used to be with every day. We each had our own things going on, though we stood beside each other. And now, we are together in a situation, though we can’t stand beside each other. There are emotions flowing around each of us that we hadn’t anticipated, some with which we may not know what to do. And that’s OK.  That’s being human. We’re allowed to be scared and courageous at the same time. Emotions, after all, are just chemicals in our body that give us information about the next action we may need to take.

But the question is – what action will you take? Will you focus on self-care? Taking care of others? Showing kindness, generosity, gratitude? Will you be creative? Will you teach, learn, or both? Where will you put your energy?

What will be the history of you?

This is the time to decide who you want to remember yourself as, in a year or in ten years. How you decide to “show up” in this time will help define you after this is over – and it will be over. You can take  the steps to be someone of whom you are proud. Someone who accepted their emotions but didn’t wallow in them. Someone who stepped up – whatever that means for you. Someone who used this “moment of pause” in the human condition to reflect, accept, and intentionally move forward. And whether that step is a small step or a big step, it’s still a step. A step that you will remember. So, I ask you, what will that step be? What will be the history of you?

A good way to begin figuring this out is to experience what your body is telling you and what emotions you are feeling. Name your emotion and be curious about the information it’s telling you. Use this information to strategize your available choices and opportunities. These could be around your own care and development or around assisting others. Or perhaps it’s both. In each moment, you are given a choice. Listen to your emotions and take each moment to pause and decide how you want to be. Once you know how you want to BE, you can make a better choice of what you want to DO. And in each choice, you are also deciding the history of YOU. Make it one of which you’re proud!

A Heart to Serve

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Had I really heard her correctly?

The cold months had been rough on Bessie, our red Subaru, and piece by piece, with daily driving in the harsh winter weather, my little car seemed to be falling apart. We’d had her for about five years, after buying her already well-used. Day in and day out, she carried the kids and I to and fro on our daily errands, and many a road trip, but though she was still running, was showing a good deal of wear and tear. The sunroof was splintered, the windshield was littered with cracks, and the engine was running a little rough. The brakes had started to squeak, and thanks to the lack of mature driving skills from one of my newly licensed children, she now had a nice big dent in her fender. Our family has always driven old cars, and we tended to drive them into the ground, so this was nothing new. But it was a few days after I posted on my social media page about how I was using duct tape to hold a section of her bumper together, trying to be funny,  when the phone call came.

“We want to buy you a new car.”

It was a dear old friend from college days, a kind, giving soul who always has something encouraging to say. She and her husband had decided they wanted to lay down a large portion of money to buy the kids and I a new vehicle. Being just a few weeks before Christmas, they were determined to share their blessings with our family during the holiday season. After much protesting, I humbly accepted their generous offer and went car shopping.

Who buys a friend a car?!

I’ve known some extremely giving people in my life.  My parents sacrificed much to make sure my brothers and I had a happy, loving home to grow up in. An aunt assisted me in procuring a scholarship to help with college expenses. A university professor paid my way for the college ski outing. A kind lady in our church offered to make our wedding cake. Friends and family babysat our children when we needed some time out, and once the kids were old enough, the acts of kindness they’d offer often brought tears to my eyes. I’d find a hard-earned $20 of allowance money tucked into a homemade Mother’s Day Card, enjoy occasional breakfasts in bed, and welcome their offers to help with chores around the house.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”― Anne Frank

Having a heart to serve others is a competency of emotional intelligence called service orientation. I like the use of the word, “orientation”. Miriam-Webster defines orientation as “a usually general or lasting direction of thought, inclination, or interest.” [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orientation] Note the words “usually general” and “lasting direction”. We’re not talking about a one-time do-a-good-deed for someone. Rather than a one-time service project, think of service orientation as a way of life. It’s having a mindset of anticipating, recognizing, and meeting others’ needs.

People who have a service orientation spend time getting to know others so they understand what their needs are. They are on the lookout to find new ways to increase satisfaction levels of those around them, and gladly make themselves available to offer assistance. They enjoy helping others and especially like providing assistance to the underdog. They have a knack for seeing things through the eyes of others and are quick to grasp perspectives different from their own.  People who are behave this way usually have a good deal of empathy.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”— Albert Schweitzer

Those who struggle with service orientation tend to think of themselves first and focus on their own needs before others. They’re not always the best team players and when asked for help, may do what’s required of them, but don’t often go above and beyond. They don’t stand up on the behalf of those around them and often speak poorly of others behind their back. These folks will often ‘pass the buck’ and even go so far as being discourteous and disrespectful.

Robert Greenleaf, author of the book Servant Leadership, observed that there are leaders who are in it for themselves and leaders who are in it for others. He concluded that those who put their focus on others were the most effective. According to Greenleaf, a servant leader must exhibit good listening skills, empathy, a desire to help heal those who are hurting, other-awareness, persuasion, conceptualization (the ability to dream), foresight, stewardship, commitment to helping others grow, and a heart for building community.

As with competencies of emotional intelligence, our ability to be of service to others can be developed and enhanced, no matter how far from having a service orientation we may be. From the ISEI Coaching Toolkit developed by Dr. Laura Belsten, here are some developmental tips to increase your service orientation:

  • Look for opportunities to be helpful, to be of service, to others
  • Anticipate and be aware of the needs of others; plan ahead to meet people’s needs if possible
  • Create a culture of service by modeling the behavior
  • Ask questions to understand another’s needs; act on or agree to a course of action
  • Under-promise and over-deliver; do more than expected
  • Follow through; check to ensure satisfaction

You may not ever have the opportunity to give someone a car, but there are many practical ways you can serve those around you, especially in the workplace. Here are some ideas: Offer a kind word of encouragement to your project manager, pick up a specialty coffee for a colleague, invite a coworker to lunch, thank your boss for her leadership, offer to help a team member on a project, ask your cubicle-mate about their weekend (and really listen). What else? Jot down a few ideas of your own then pick one to start with today. Taking an action to hep another is a great first step toward developing a service orientation.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
― Charles Dickens

Why Empathy Matters

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

Not feeling it

She theatrically shared her sob story, voice cracking from the flood of emotion, complete with a long, pregnant pause to regain her composure. I squirmed uncomfortably in my hard, metal seat and inwardly rolled my eyes. Oh, the drama. The presenter struggled through her testimony and I struggled with listening–caring. Her situation seemed easy to me, and not worth the eruption of emotional energy she was giving it.

I turned my head toward my colleague with a smirk, knowing she’d share my lack of enthusiasm at this flagrant show of sentiment. I was surprised to see she had a big, fat tear trickling down her cheek. She quickly brushed it away and reached in her purse for a tissue. As I looked around, I noticed others in the audience sniffling and dabbing their eyes. They, like my colleague, were feeling what the speaker was feeling, displaying compassionate listening skills.

I was not.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to sense others’ feelings and take an active interest in their perspectives and concerns. It’s that ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and respond in a way that creates connection and understanding within your relationship. People who are good at this are able to tune into a wide array of emotional signals. They can sense underlying emotions that the other may be trying to hide. They show sensitivity to how the other is feeling and respond in a way that makes the other person feel understood, valued, and heard.

Those of us who aren’t so good at it tend to be judgmental and stereotype others before we have all the facts. We misunderstand how others are feeling and are quick to evaluate their actions based upon our criteria–not theirs.  As a result, we tend to act in a way that may crush another’s spirit and come across as indifferent or uncaring, which can cripple a relationship.

Before you cast your judgment upon me for my obvious lack of this vital competency of emotional intelligence, know that it reared its ugly head at a time in my life when I was younger, more focused on myself and my needs, with an inability to understand what others were suffering–mainly because I hadn’t lived much of my own life yet. Research shows that when we are in comfortable situations it is more difficult to empathize with someone else’s suffering. “At a neurobiological level – without a properly functioning supramarginal gyrus – the part of the brain that decouples perception of self from that of others  — your brain has a tough time putting itself in someone else’s shoes.”[https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201310/the-neuroscience-empathy] .

“Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.”  — John MacNaughton

Little did I know that just around the corner, I’d soon be in dire need for the empathy I didn’t yet know how to offer others.

Empathy is vital

Learning to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and meaning, without losing the ‘as-if’ mentality — as if the same thing could happen to me — is a skill that is valuable to the health of our relationships.  It enables us to “share experiences, needs, and desires between individuals and providing an emotional bridge that promotes pro-social behavior.” [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513638/]. Empathy leads to helping shift behaviors which benefit us socially. “When people experience empathy, they are more likely to engage in pro-social behaviors that benefit other people. Things such as altruism and heroism are also connected to feeling empathy for others.” [https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-empathy-2795562].

Empathy is considered the missing link when it comes to strong connections in our families, schools, and workplaces. “Without empathy”, says Julie Fuimano,  certified coach, writer and speaker, “people tend to go about life without considering how other people feel or what they may be thinking. We are so limited when we only see our own perspective. Without taking a moment to assess another, it is easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions which leads to misunderstandings, bad feelings, conflict, poor morale, and broken relationships.” [https://www.healthecareers.com/article/healthcare-news/the-importance-of-empathy-in-the-workplace].

It wasn’t but a few short months after that conference that my own set of struggles–which all of us encounter in this thing called life–began to take me down. My emotions were a raw, raucous roller coaster of highs and lows, and I could see no light at the end of the tunnel.  I couldn’t see my way ahead and my days became filled with pretending and my nights filled with worry. I noticed some friends started avoiding me. They’d tell me they were there for me, and some even went so far to say they were praying for me, but they sure didn’t want to hang around me.  I felt alone and questioned my self-worth.

“If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view — as well as your own.” — Henry Ford

Oh, what I would’ve given for someone to assure me, “Of course you’re feeling that way. I get it.  And it’s OK.” Where were all the empaths when I needed them?! It was as if no one really cared. It’s not surprising that only around 20 percent of the population is genetically predisposed toward empathy, based upon a study published in the Brain and Behavior journal. [https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322189.php].  The good news, though, is that empathy is a competency of emotional intelligence, a behavior, and can be learned, even if we our natural tendencies don’t lend toward us shedding tears.

8 Ways to Increase your Empathy

  1.  Work on your listening skills. Listening is key to empathy, so practice quieting your mind when others are talking and really tune in to what they are saying, both verbally and non-verbally.
  2. Go beyond the words. When someone is speaking, search for the meaning behind their words, body language, and approach, to figure out what their underlying purpose and concerns are.
  3. Stop what you’re doing. When someone approaches you to share their heart, try to stop what you’re doing by looking at them, turning away from your computer, and putting down your phone.
  4. Find the emotions. What is the other person feeling?  Try to name the emotions they are experiencing and connect them to your own emotions.
  5. Paraphrase.  Check your understanding of what’s being said by repeating back to them what you think you heard.  “What I heard was…” or “It sounds like you’re….” are great ways to paraphrase what they said.
  6. Withhold judgment. Even if you agree with nothing that was said, try to be supportive of their viewpoint by letting them know you value their opinion.  Let them know that though you may believe differently, you still respect them for the way they are feeling and thinking.
  7. Think back. Reflect upon a time when you were hurting, or struggling with a tough situation.  Do you remember who helped you find your way?  Who was it who made you feel heard and understood, and what did they do to make you feel that way? Attempt to emulate their behavior as you work with others.
  8. Remind yourself that we’re all in this together.  It’s rare that someone close to you can go through a rough time without it affecting you and others.  Consider doing a compassion meditation to develop a greater understanding of how similar we all really are.

My own empathy has grown and developed since those heartless days. And though I have a long way to go, I can say that after years of work, I’m now often the first one crying in the room. If you struggle with empathy, see if you can’t choose just one of the above steps to start practicing this week.  After a few weeks, move on to another step, and so on. Journal about each step and reach out to others to talk about your progress. It takes work, but if you want to have meaningful, deep relationships, and make an impact on others as a leader, it’s a trait worth developing.

Are you a servant leader?

jackie robinsonArticle Contributed by Amy Sargent

Baseball great Jackie Robinson once said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” From the site baseballhall.org, we read this about the famed second baseman: “The impact Robinson made on Major League Baseball is one that will be forever remembered. On April 15 each season, every team in the majors celebrates Jackie Robinson Day in honor of when he truly broke the color barrier in baseball, becoming the first African-American player in the 20th century to take the field in the big leagues. He opened the door for many others and will forever be appreciated for his contribution to the game.”

How often do we stop to ponder how our life is impacting others (because it is) and more importantly, what kind of impact is it having?

Traditional leadership often refers to the accumulation and use of power to accomplish one’s goals. In contrast, a servant leader shares power and focuses on helping others achieve their goals.

Reflect for a moment on the person in your life who has been the most influential in shaping you to be who you are–someone who has possibly inspired you, empowered you, and/or led you well? Do you have that person’s face fixed in your mind? Now, what quality (qualities) do you most appreciate about him or her? I’m guessing it isn’t their amazing stash of wealth, their ability to dominate a meeting, or their knack for commanding everyone’s attention at any given moment.

I consulted Webster to see how he defines the word ‘servant’. Take a look at some of the specific words used in the definition (emphasis mine): servant | n. | One who serves, does services, voluntarily or on compulsion; a person employed by another for menial offices, or for labor, and is subject to his command; a person who labors or exerts himself for the benefit of another, his master or employer; a subordinate helper.

Serves…compulsion…menial…subject to command…labors for others’ benefit…subordinate helper….when I think of leading, I have to admit these are not the words that quickly come to mind, and they honestly are not that appealing. Yet a valuable competency of social and emotional intelligence is our ability to have a service orientation. John C. Maxwell, author, speaker, and founder of an international leadership development organization designed to help leaders, says it very poignantly:

 “True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not to enrich the leader.”

If that’s accurate, which I believe it is, then we need to figure out what this servant leadership thing really is.

What does it look like to be a servant leader? Leadership can take many shapes and forms, but those who naturally possess this ability to pilot others with a servant’s heart tend to be:

  • Good listeners. They tune into what their followers are saying (and not saying) and take action in response to what they hear.
  • Available. Servant leaders carve out time in their busy schedules to spend with their team members and readily offer their time and expertise.
  • Motivators. They are driven to help others succeed and know how to spur others to do so.
  • Encouragers. Those with a servant heart love to speak highly of others and build them up, both one-on-one and in public.
  • Satisfaction Seekers (for others). These leaders actively search for ways to increase their teams’ satisfaction and engagement levels.
  • Helpers. Servant leaders actually like helping others reach their goals more than they enjoy achieving their own.
  • Blame Holders. They refuse to ‘pass-the-buck’, and will take a hit for their teams if needed.
  • Overachievers. Servant leaders are willing to go above and beyond what is expected for the benefit of others.
  • Forgetful. These leaders make a point to move past “wrongs” once the issue has been dealt with appropriately. They forgive quickly, and help leverage team members’ strengths instead of focus on past weaknesses.
  • Anticipators. Servant leaders think ahead to foresee the needs and desires of those they lead…and act accordingly.

Servant leadership may not be your current style, but if you want to begin to develop it, be encouraged that no matter how deeply ingrained your present behaviors may be, they can be remodeled. Becoming self-aware that there is room to grow is a terrific first step. But moving from a traditional leadership style to servant leadership is easier said than done. Break this valiant mission into small steps with simple, attainable goals. For example, try focusing on just one of the above qualities for the next few weeks. Brainstorm ways you can serve your teams in that way. Write them down. Post them in a place you can see them or put them on a to-do list. Set reminders on your smart phone. Grab an accountability partner to walk alongside you. Each and every day, make an attempt to do just one kind deed for a team member. Maybe it’s just looking up from your computer or phone when someone comes in to talk. Or spending an extra five minutes really listening to someone. Or taking them out to lunch. Or offering your talents to help on a project. Or making them a cup of coffee this morning.  If you’re struggling with ideas or follow through, team up with a coach to help you make the shift.

It may feel very unnatural at first, but like with anything, the more you practice it the more serving others will come natural. And the effort will be worth it. Robert Ingersoll says it best:  “We rise by lifting others.” Transitioning to a servant leader style can and will elevate your impact as a leader. And maybe, just maybe, those you affect will someday say this about you,  “He opened the door for many others and will forever be appreciated for his contribution to the game.”

“Your gifts are not about you.  Leadership is not about you. Your purpose is not about you.  A life of significance is about serving those who need your gifts, your leadership, and your purpose.” – Kevin Hall, author

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