Article

3 Ways to Start Becoming a Servant Leader With Your Team

October 19, 2022

The best performing teams have leaders who choose to play for the team, not themselves.

Most projects fail because of poor communication. Factcheck: false. When organizations focus on improving communication, they generally add processes and guidelines that increase the workload on teams that are already struggling to deliver the desired results. But it’s easier to use communication as the scapegoat than it is to admit they “suck at leadership!” 

If this sounds all too familiar, first – that sucks, and second – we can help. The basic foundation of an agile organization, an agile mindset and teamwork is that “everyone is a leader.” Enter Servant Leadership. Servant Leadership is when you play for the team, not for yourself.

Not sure where to start? Let’s jump into 3 ways to implement Servant Leadership with your team.

1. Start with the “why”

Great leaders inspire action and do this by starting with the “Why.” People want to do business with people who believe in what they believe. Your goal as a leader is mass adoption of incremental change.

Servant Leadership is about taking an organization and its people on a journey, in service of the team. Leadership is more than a willingness to disrupt the status quo; it’s about the necessity to constantly innovate. No one hires a leader because they want their organization to be the same when they’re done. Simply put, leadership is about change, and change is about your team’s culture. Great leadership is necessary when change is desired.

To remain competitive today you need to have a high degree of change readiness and to have a culture that is always changing, innovating, and learning. 

Remember this: management is about the work; leadership is about the people. If you want to inspire change and drive value, you need to abandon authority and embrace Servant Leadership.

Being in a position of authority doesn’t make you a leader, and just because you have no authority doesn’t mean you can’t choose to be a leader. Leadership is a choice; anyone can choose to help inspire others to reach for their potential. 

If change is about your team’s culture, your biggest advantage is to understand that people adopt change according to the law of diffusion of innovations. Armed with that knowledge, you can drive a cultural shift much quicker than if you assume a role of authority.

Check out Simon Sinek’s breakdown of the importance of starting with the “Why” and the Law of Diffusion of Innovations.

2. Don’t just communicate…communicate to LEAD.

Like we mentioned earlier, communication always gets a bad rep when it’s used as a scapegoat for not getting the results they’re looking for. When the executives finally get frustrated by the volume of unexpected results, they launch a project to improve their organization’s ability to communicate.

The problem with focusing on improving communication as a way of improving your outcomes is that it almost always leads to more communication. More emails, voice messages, text messages, Slack messages, and meetings. This ultimately creates the need for more processes and governance over communication. Unfortunately, this approach will create more administrative work and increased expectations for a group of people that are already struggling to achieve the expected results. When has that ever improved results?

Communication in leadership is your greatest tool. And how you use that tool will help you to embody servant leadership. 

So, how do leaders communicate? We communicate to lead…period.

At 120VC, we communicate for the sole purpose of leading our projects forward, as aggressively as possible, and leading our team members to achieve transformational outcomes. Whether the communication is in person or in writing, each interaction is intended to move our projects closer to completion. Any interaction that leads to confusion, or a status report that leads to questions, is a failed attempt at leadership. 

Especially with the work from home life (who doesn’t love working in sweatpants), situational leadership is important when communicating. At 120VC, we always get those zoom cameras on & put a mutiny on mute. That’s because the way we communicate through tone, body language, and words matter!

The bottom line is…we communicate to lead. If you aren’t getting the outcomes you need, focus on improving your organization’s leadership skills.

3. Listen, actively.

We’ve all heard of Active Listening, but how many of us actually practice it every day? Don’t sweat it, not many of us do! Human nature being what it is, most of us listen to come up with a smart response or to give the right answer. We have a ton of competing demands and are in a hurry to solve the problem. But as a leader, if you don’t take the time to be intentional in listening and truly understanding the problem or your team members’ concerns, your solutions will never be as effective as you would like.

Leadership is exponentially more powerful than authority because it involves choice. When your team members choose to follow you, they are doing so because they either feel positively connected to your vision or because they simply feel connected to you. 

Fostering a connection with your team members requires active listening, versus the more common act of listening to respond. 

Active listening techniques are critical to connecting with your team members, developing trust, and understanding how to lead them. More importantly, active listening gives you the credibility to shift a team member if you disagree with them, and the ability to have your coaching construed as constructive. The most important takeaway: truly listening to understand builds connection, and with connection comes trust. If you want your team members to lean in and play for the team in true Servant Leadership, they have to trust you are playing for them.

  • DON’T STAY SILENT 

Some people see active listening as simply sitting and really focusing on what someone is saying with an occasional “Uh huh, I see.” That’s actually passive listening! 

If you’re being passive, you’re not trying to understand, and you’ll miss something. It’s much better to stay engaged throughout, creating a two-way dialogue and establishing credibility for your understanding of what your team member is sharing. Which brings us to the next tip…

  • ASK QUESTIONS 

The next time one of your team members escalates a problem, suggests a change for the organization, or brings a new idea, try not to just to answer! Ask them questions. Start by asking them “why” to understand the impacts. Then ask how they think the team should approach the change. Ask them to come up with the solution while you use active listening to help them develop the most effective roadmap to a shared team goal.

Periodically, while your team member is talking, interrupt and paraphrase back your understanding of what they shared. This will allow them to clarify points that aren’t in alignment with their thought process and improve the quality of the picture that is developing in your head. Paraphrasing also communicates the points that you understood accurately and will earn you the credibility to challenge their vision, if necessary, for the sake of a better outcome.

Bottom line: Leaders aren’t born… They are made! The key performance indicator of a great leader is that they enable their stakeholders to define and then deliver the necessary results.So, have we started with enough “Why?” to have you start living the Servant Leadership life with your team? Join our “Servant Leadership that #GSD” Workshop from our Leadership Academy to help you unlock the transformative power of GSD by putting focus on developing your leadership skills and those of every person on your team.

Jason Scott

From the start of his career spent jumping out of helicopters as a Rescue Swimmer in the United States Navy, J. Scott has a long history of leadership, servanthood, and bearing witness to the transformative power of getting shit done. Since starting 120VC he's personally overseen the global transformational efforts within organizations such as DirecTV, Trader Joe's, Blizzard Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Mattel, and others. His team's unique, irreverent approach to change has generated breakthrough results and created meaningful jobs. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, J. Scott is a devoted husband and father and author of "It's Never Just Business: It's About People," and "The Irreverent Guide to Project Management," both available on Amazon.com.