servant leadership

Servant Leadership for Managers: 8 Game-Changing Tips from An Expert

We ask Inc. Magazine’s top-30 leadership columnist, Marcel Schwantes: what does it really take to be a successful manager?

His short answer is to follow the tenets of Servant Leadership because when you put people first, everything else falls into place. In this post, he shares 8 game-changing tips for managers to follow and why now is the time for all companies to adopt the Servant Leadership model (a.k.a heart-based leadership).

Interview With Marcel Schwantes

servant leadership expert

Do you have the characteristics of a servant leader? Take this self-assessment to see how to shape and refine your leadership style!

What is Servant Leadership and what are some of its key benefits for organizations?

Servant Leadership is a model of leadership founded the 1970s by Robert Greenleaf that addresses the psychological needs of people.

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types”.

It’s about achieving business results through employee empowerment. The model helps builds a sense of community and belonging in the workplace, and when employees perceive that this sense of belonging is of genuine importance, there’s a higher degree of responsibility carried out in the work they do.

In our day, you cannot possibly get your people to move in a direction you want them to, intrinsically, unless you show them that you care for their well-being.

people-first mindset

If Servant Leadership is decades old, how does it fit in with millennials entering the workforce?

It’s actually the most appropriate model for millennials because they thrive in community-based cultures. They seek workplaces that collaborate well, and they want management that engages them, empathizes with them as people, and pushes them to be the best they can be. It’s not just about collecting a paycheck anymore, so the organizational pyramid is slowly getting turned on its head and the heart-based model fits in perfectly with the bottom-up approach.

If you were to paint us a picture of a Servant Leader, what would they look like?

According to our research at Leadership From The Core, Servant Leaders demonstrate 6 key behaviors:

Traits of a Servant Leader:

  1. They display authenticity
  2. They value their people
  3. They help to develop their people
  4. They provide direction and guidance to their people
  5. They share their power
  6. They build a community

Ultimately, a Servant Leader wants to help others thrive, and is happy to put their team’s needs before their own. They take the blame and give out the recognition. They care about employees as people all around and they understand that the best results are produced not through top-down delegation but by building people – and their skills – up.

care about your employees

Can traditional top-down organizations just switch to a bottom-up approach?

It’s possible, but it’s not going to be a magic pill. It’s a whole structural change. The issue is that there’s a stigma attached to servant leadership. People think it’s too “soft” for business and profitability, even though studies keep proving otherwise.

But we’re not the industrial revolution anymore. We’re in a knowledge economy now, a social economy, and people need the psychological safety and autonomy to be creative and innovative. Businesses who put their people first and bring the best out of their employees are the ones that are going to survive.

Yet, so many workplaces still follow the command and control mentality.

What advice can you give on the topic of micromanaging?

The truth is that Servant Leaders and micromanagers, however different; both want the same thing – excellence. They just go about it differently. The servant leader is going to empower, develop, coach and mentor their employees to their highest level of performance and then just let them be. A micromanager will continue to hover over people’s shoulder. That’s the Achilles heel of the micro-manager – but it won’t help anyone grow. People need to have ownership and autonomy over their work at some point.

It’s all about trust.

Micromanagers need to start letting employees know that they trust them from the start, not make them earn it. They’ve already earned it by getting selected for the job.

Where does the change need to begin?

Scenario 1: Top-down approach

It’s easiest if the directive is from the top, but not everyone is going to buy into the vision. You don’t just “become” a servant-leadership company. The people that are currently leaders need to either have the qualities of a servant leader or be coached on how to embody this sort of leadership. Not everyone will be on board, and some people will never adapt to it, but it’s ok for those people to leave because it would be a turning point for the company to reinvent its leadership.

Sometimes you need to flip things on their heads in order for real change to happen.

Scenario 2: Bottom-up approach

The other scenario is that managers decide that they aren’t going to wait for the executive team to catch up because they see the direct effect that leading from a bottom-up model has on their teams. They take ownership, lead upward, and start serving the needs of their front line on their own, by implementing the 8 tips listed above.

I’ve seen this happen, and in the annual survey all metrics regarding manager-employee relationships went up. Everything started to improve, and this got the attention of the executive team, who then bought into the change.

8 Tips For Managers To Become Servant Leaders

  1. Offer a growth mindset

    Managers must offer their employees a continuous learning environment – nurturing, growing and developing them to be better. For example, create career paths for their best people so they grow as workers (to benefit their organizations) and people (to benefit their careers, even if it means that you may lose that person because heart-based leaders want the best for their people)

  2. Managers must be humble

    While it’s hard to measure, it’s the striving to be humble that matters. New managers have to be humble enough to put other people ahead of themselves, not taking credit for organizational accomplishments (since they recognize that the client-facing people in the trenches are the ones that “make things happen”). Humble leaders gladly accept the role of learners because they know it will make them better.

  3. Communicate openly and authentically

    This is how managers win the hearts of their people – by being open and sharing plans for the future, communicating important things to their people, and fostering a transparent culture. The last thing you’ll see in a Servant Leader someone that hides behind closed doors. They’re constantly communicating. Giving and receiving feedback on no less than a weekly basis.

  4. Allow for risks to be taken

    Servant Leaders are known for creating an environment in which risks are taken, allowing those around them to feel safe to exercise their creativity, communicate their ideas openly and provide input to major decisions. Because there’s trust there not fear. It communicates to employees of a sense of – “hey we are all in this together.”

  5. Listen to your people!

    Not just listening, but active listening. That takes SKILL! They must be open to feedback, and be willing and agile to change when they make mistakes (as a result of listening to constructive feedback that will help them grow as leaders). This is essential in building credibility with followers. When you listen well, you earn respect.

  6. Invest in coaching

    People, especially millennials gravitate to leaders who will coach them to success. When you coach people, you’re developing them to succeed. That’s why it’s an investment. You’re bettering yourself as a leader by learning coaching skills and you’re bettering the employee experience by elevating their skills. Managers who are good coaches purposely set aside the time to find out where their best people are with their career. Coaching is the highest form of nurturing, loving and developing the capabilities of your employees and employee-leaders.

    purpose-driven workplaces

  7. Demonstrate Accountability

    It goes without saying, but be personally accountable and always follow through on your commitments. This is how you earn respect as a leader.

  8. Share Information

    This is the pathway towards becoming more transparent – a powerful thing for any leader. The reason that most aren’t transparent is because of fear. They believe that they will be viewed as less authoritative, weak, and as losing their leverage. Start slowly with being more open, sharing your plans, news strategies and developments, where the company is headed, how they fit into the bigger picture. Avoid the need to control and be bureaucratic, which gives employees the impression that they are not trusted. That will only decrease employee engagement.

Note: The most important thing to remember here is that it’s the soft skills – not the hard skills – that matter most. Being a good manager is understanding that it’s not only the results that matter, but about the learning experience the employee has getting there.
Do you have the characteristics of a servant leader? Take this self-assessment to see how to shape and refine your leadership style!

Are you a heart-based leader? Share your tips to below!

Get our expert leadership tips delivered right to your inbox.