Traditionally, people were promoted into leadership positions because they were viewed as a top individual contributor, a type-A extrovert, and/or a supremely confident professional.
This results from what’s called a “promote to retain” strategy implemented by many organizations.
While retaining top talent is vitally important, it’s also critical for organizations to promote people into positions of leadership that can drive performance and make a positive impact on the people they get the opportunity to lead.
There is one predictor of leaders like this regardless if they were a top individual contributor or not, and it’s not where organizations have previously focused. Leaders who have a servant's heart sustain positive business results and achieve high employee engagement scores.
After studying so many leaders with a servant's heart in all different industries, roles, and backgrounds, it turns out they are doing many things right to have a high performing team. It’s what I refer to as "The Great 8 to Lead Your Best." These are a list of things which by themselves are important, but they tend to compound and build upon each other. Here they are with a brief description of each to help you leverage them with your team as well.
1. Leadership Methodology
Over the last 30 years, methodologies have skyrocketed in popularity because they provide a backbone and structure to do any difficult job. From sales to research to project management and now leadership.
Many of the best modern leaders we have studied either knowingly or unknowingly use a servant leadership methodology and use high levels of love and discipline in the way they lead. Robert Greenleaf said it well, “Servant leadership always empathizes, always accepts the person, but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.”
The key to leadership is relationships because, without strong relationships, you can’t lead. High performing teams have bonds of mutual trust and respect. Where most leaders struggle is in understanding their responsibility to earn those two things. Long gone are the days of a title commanding respect. In today’s workplaces, a title should only be a reminder of your responsibility to your people.
While this seems obvious, many leaders skip relationship building and jump right into accountability to drive performance. This is a massive mistake because Rules without relationships lead to rebellion.
Instead of assuming the relationships with your team members are strong, make time with each team member to ask this powerful question: “How are you and your family coping during the pandemic?”
Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, "The art of communication is the language of leadership." Leaders of high-performing teams not only leverage the proper amount of communication but also are clear, concise, and conclusive. Effective leaders are great communicators.
The best modern leaders are constantly looking to improve how they communicate by evaluating their verbal, written, and body language.
4. Shared Purpose
People in organizations don't get burned out because of their work; they get burned out because they forget WHY they do the work they do. Because of this, leaders of high-performing teams are constantly reminding their teams of the deeper purpose behind the work they do.
One of the biggest mistakes managers make is believing it’s not their job to connect their team to a deeper purpose. Don’t fall into poor thinking. Embrace the responsibility that you are the connector of cause.
For teams to keep getting better, leaders must raise the bar of what’s expected. The reason is that team members' behaviors and habits are always going to default to the bar set. The best modern leaders embrace this by relying on standards.
A standard is defined as “what good looks like.” If you want to leverage standards, don’t define what good looks like, but to go beyond that and define what great looks like.
Be crystal clear, concise, and focused. Limit yourself to as few standards as possible so they can be remembered and applied.
The teams that execute their strategy and plans to near perfection will always achieve more than teams who do not. George Patton famously said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” As right as Patton is, it’s the leaders on a team who are responsible for removing barriers and putting people in the right positions to execute to the best of their abilities.
Accountability is one of these words that has been hijacked. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner.
It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people. Leaders are obligated to care for all their people equally and to serve their hearts, not their talents.
If you want to model how the best modern leaders leverage accountability, get comfortable with having difficult dialogues, which I wrote about here.
One way a leader separates themselves from being a manager in today’s modern business environment is by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further, saying: “Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”
Leaders who coach have never been more critical than they are today. A strong, dedicated leader plays an integral role in elevating people to new heights, exactly how John Whitmore envisioned it.
Every leader began somewhere. Regardless of whether you were promoted to a leadership position because of a "promote and retain strategy" or for some other reason, now is the time to embrace responsibility and develop servant’s heart. Once these are in place, work hard to understand, master, and apply "The Great 8 to Lead Your Best" on an ongoing basis.
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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn's Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.