Picture this: A person excels as an individual contributor or shows great potential.
To reward and retain them they are given the promotion. The new position comes with a pay increase and allows them to make more decisions and influence strategy. It’s a great moment of validation for the employee.
This scenario happens in organizations every day. But there’s a huge problem. This practice of rewarding performance with a position of leadership isn't always the best strategy.
Here’s why: I was promoted to be a manager in my previous company after I pushed for the promotion. I immediately jumped into the job and worked long hours to prove myself worthy. While my team did a few things well, the performance didn’t improve and no one was growing, developing, or finding joy in their work.
Instead of looking at myself, I blamed the team. It wasn’t until I let one of our key team members go that I confronted the serious reality, the problem was not my team, the problem was me. Many years later I now know this critical leadership principle. Leadership isn’t about the title; It’s about how you lead.
Minnesota Head football coach PJ Fleck said it well on Jon Gordon’s podcast: “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. Your leadership title only matters the first day, after that, it’s how you do it.”
I didn't find one successful leader in my research for Building the Best who didn't have the heart to serve. The word serve comes from the Latin word servant, in modern context it means, “to devote (part of) one’s life or efforts to others.”
Why Serving others is so Essential Right Now
Serving others is always crucial for leaders, but it’s especially important during challenging times and Covid-19 is the epitome of challenging times. People are concerned about their health, finances, and their future more than any time in recent history.
Since each person is affected by it differently, the ways in which leaders serve should also be different based on the individual.
Serving a team takes two different forms:
Direct Service. Serving team members directly is done through actions that someone else immediately experiences. This includes, but is not limited to: helping finish a project, sharing feedback to help a person improve, and giving resources (money or network introductions).
Indirect Service. Serving team members indirectly is mainly done through advocating for them when they aren’t present. This can include taking a pay cut so a team members’ job isn’t eliminated or recommending them for a promotion.
Both direct and indirect service are powerful ways a leader can exhibit their willingness and ability to put someone else's interests ahead of their own.
The Sacrifice Matters
At the center of serving others is this word that tends to make people uncomfortable: sacrifice. In the context of leadership, sacrifice means to give up (something important or valued) for the sake of other considerations.
It turns out many leaders are making sacrifices in various ways in the current market to serve their people. Many leaders have cut their salaries to $0 in an effort to help with financial stability or to save jobs. NFL Commissioner Roger Godell, Marriott CEO Arne Sorensen, Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, Fiserv’s CEO Jeffrey Yubaki, Delta CEO Ed Bastian, Texas Roadhouse’s CEO Kent Taylor, and Disneys’s Bob Iger have all taken cuts.
While these sacrifices from CEOs are most like coming from their monetary abundance, they remain an important act to show their hard-working team members that they care about more themselves.
A Simple Way to Serve your Team
If you have gotten this far in the article you either believe in servant leadership at your core or you want to do a better job of it. There is a simple yet highly effective method to help remind you to lead this way. It’s what I call the PTS Method. It’s a method to flip your mindset away from “you” to elevating others. Here is how it works.
When you change your environment, you say to yourself, “Prepare to serve,” and then you put it into action. An example would be when you are getting off one Zoom call today and prior to getting on the next one, you would say to yourself, “Prepare to serve.” Without trying to do anything drastically different, you will have your people’s interest top of mind instead of your own.
When you put the PTS Method into practice every day, you’ll quickly find yourself becoming a leader your people want to emulate and follow. If you have difficulty remembering, schedule your morning phone alarm with a “PTS” notification or put a sticky not on your desk. The important thing is to find whatworks for you and reminds you to “prepare to serve” every time you change your environment.
I would be lying to you if I told you I was always able to remember to put the PTS Method into practice. Leading other people is hard, and I make mistakes every day. I disappoint my team and I think about myself too much at times. I fail to serve, empower, and inspire others, and you will, too. But that’s ok because no leadership journey is ever perfect.
About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. 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 and host of the "Follow My Lead" Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today's leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.