“Don’t judge the day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Out with the group hero, and in with the servant leader
It’s a common story among small groups and startups: a charismatic and driven leader is leading the charge, driving change, saving the day, relishing in their role as the backbone of the group. When for whatever reason they vacate their position, the organization withers on the vine without the hero at the helm.
In this scenario, the hero leader has – often unwittingly – made the success of the organization all about them, their role, or their input. They have failed the group because they have failed to put in place strong processes and procedures that can endure in their absence. This false heroism does a disservice to the group, as well, by eliminating the ability of group members to contribute or collaborate to a higher extent.
So what is a healthy alternative model? Enter the servant leader. When the group leader is willing to relinquish control, put their ego in the backseat, and focus on implementing group processes that instill trust and raise accountability, the group is able to live up to their full and ongoing potential. Strengthening group communication and trust is, of course, a priority to keep pinned at the top of the leadership to-do list.
Here are the 5 top traits of servant leaders:
1. Values diversity: in opinion, perspective, and talent
Servant leaders advocate for the diverse perspectives that exist across the group. They do this because they understand that stronger decisions are often the outcome of examining things from many angles. According to HBR, “teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively.”
Encouraging an active exchange of ideas is one way leaders can take themselves out of hero mode. When creativity, contribution, and collaboration is baked into each layer of the group process, the group is able not only to do more, but to do more well. Servant leaders give group members a platform for sharing their ideas and unique talents. More input means higher group engagement, deeper trust, and stronger rapport.
2. Acts as a mentor
Servant leaders add value to others in the group by giving them opportunities to use their strengths. They see themselves not as dictators, but as mentors and talent incubators. They take a proactive role in building up the skillset of the group. Servant leaders step back from time to time in order to let others develop their leadership skills. Deputizing others to lead means that the leader gets a break and members are able to shine. In that vein, servant leaders focus on encouragement and praise. When the group dynamic revolves around sharing positive feedback, it becomes easier to make adjustments and corrections that positively affect outcomes. It’s important that everyone feels good, not just that they perform well.
3. Understands that transparent and consistent group process is invaluable
Servant leaders understand that the outcome is important, but that process is just as important. Servant leaders focus on processes, roles, and responsibilities for several reasons. When there are strong processes in place, there is transparency and accountability built into the system. The whole group understands how things work, and they can replicate their successes over time because they have a shared strategy. This is basically group muscle memory.
When the leader eventually steps down or moves on from the role, the group is able to continue to thrive because of the processes they hold dear and know work. They are able to stay on track because leadership has been decentralized away from a single heroic figurehead. Groups with hero leaders will eventually lose steam and/or die. To be as clear as possible, it is not an “if,” it is a “when.” Groups with servant leaders have staying power. Servant leaders understand that backing up decentralized leadership with technology that decentralizes access to group information is an absolute game changer. When everyone has keys to the tool chest, the hero leader is made redundant.
4. Thinks long-term
Servant leader focus on the next leader, succession of power, and making selfless choices to benefit the future of the group. Servant leaders understand that their role as leader is a temporary privilege and opportunity, not a permanent foregone conclusion. If they have been doing all the mentoring and talent incubating that they could over the course of their tenure, stepping down and aside will not be a disaster for the group in any way, shape, or form. It will be another opportunity for progress, fresh energy, and longevity. Furthermore, if they’ve integrated communication and group management solutions that mean everyone has access to everything they need, by using Groupizy or a similar platform, there will be even less likelihood of sturm and drang.
5. Acts with humility
Servant leaders take an active role in the work of the group. They don’t dictate. They ensure that the group is on board with the plan, and then they roll their sleeves up and help make it happen. Servant leaders know that respect is earned, and they also know that they do not have all of the answers. Demonstrating vulnerability and the ability to say “I don’t know the answer” is a strong trust builder. Vulnerability and honesty: paradoxical power moves!
We’d love to hear more from our readers! What are some ways that you act as a servant leader in your organization? Do you have any stories to share about your experience as a group member who worked under a leader that embodied this style? Tell us in the comments!
The Team at Groupeasy