Service leads to results. Put people first and productivity follows.
Written by: Courtney Lynch
When I served in the Marines, we had a saying: Mission first, people always. Everything about leading Marines came down to achieving results in times of challenge, chaos, and uncertainty, while taking care of your people. Now, as an executive coach, as I’ve helped my clients navigate pandemic times, often I’ve been guiding them in demonstrating service-based leadership.
Leading with service is about acting selflessly on behalf of others to ensure their success. It’s about the simple actions you take to support others so they can thrive. To be productive in a pandemic, teams need service-based leadership. The great news for leaders is that service can be demonstrated in the simplest ways. The key is to shift your mindset from a focus on your needs to a focus on identifying and taking the steps to meet the needs of others.
One of the most compelling stories of service-based leadership I’ve witnessed recently is when an executive learned that one of his most talented mid-level managers had turned in her resignation. Even though she wasn’t his direct report, he made time to reach out to her and find out why she was leaving. He realized quickly that she was quitting so she could better support her children while they were learning virtually amidst the pandemic. While leaving her job was a short-term fix, it would create a long-term challenge for her family and the company.
The executive realized instantly that service and flexibility would solve the problem. He worked with the employee’s manager to determine how they could flex her hours, including some weekend work, allowing her to both be available to her kids and productive on the job. Today, her kids are back in the classroom, and she’s a deeply loyal and committed team member, grateful for the above and beyond support her company gave her during her time of need.
Here are four ways you can bring service-based leadership into your team:
Take action to meet needs. When people feel cared for because you’re looking out for their needs, they feel safe and experience your commitment to them. They’re able to focus less on themselves and more on their team and the results they are seeking. What’s important is not just thinking about all the unmet needs you could contribute to resolving – it’s actually taking steps to make a difference. Simple actions, like listening to a team member, connecting with a colleague spontaneously to just catch up, or recognizing when someone needs additional resources and making that happen, are all examples of taking action to serve.
Share information. In today’s world where uncertainty is often the norm, sharing what you know, as you can, is a powerful act of service. While none of us can predict the future, we can always work to communicate clearly and consistently. Sharing knowledge and facts not only keeps people informed, it helps them anticipate how they can best contribute to future needs.
Do what’s difficult. True service is not about coddling or enabling. In the moment, it can often seem easier to let poor performance slide or opt not to address issues that are contributing to less than best results. Yet one of the most valuable aspects of service-based leadership is sharing constructive criticism in an empowering way so that your colleagues have an opportunity to be supported while leveling up. Resist the urge to lower performance standards. Instead, coach, mentor, and develop those you lead.
Recognize the barriers. There are two common barriers to bringing a sense of service to the teams you lead: awareness and pace. Most people just don’t know about service-based leadership and some feel it’s just too simple to be effective. Simple practices, like demonstrating empathy, seeking to understand how you can be of value to someone else, or just learning someone’s story, can seem unimportant, or perhaps something for someone else to do – “That’s HR’s job.” Work is busy; it can become a habit to keep your head down and focused on the tasks at hand. While that might seem helpful to productivity in the short-term, it eventually leads to more time-consuming challenges as team members begin to feel disconnected from, or misunderstood by, management. It does take extra time and discipline to make time for other people amid all you have going on. Yet time in service to others is time well spent towards creating a culture that contributes to teamwork and results.
To be of true service is to give. That’s it. While the rewards of service are stronger teams, greater results, and a more empowered workforce, it’s important to remove any sense of quid pro quo from your actions. A sincere focus on working to recognize and meet others’ needs creates an environment that motivates people to act because they want to, not because they have to. And in pandemic times and beyond, that’s how greater results happen.
Courtney Lynch is an executive coach who works with high-performing leaders to help them achieve next-level results. After her service in the Marine Corps, she co-created the leadership development firm Lead Star and co-wrote the New York Times best-selling books SPARK and Leading from the Front with Angie Morgan also a Marine Corps veteran. Their third book, Bet on You: How Leaders Win with Risk, will be out in spring 2022.
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