At some point in your career, you have probably heard some corporate big wig state that the employees are the company’s most valuable resource. Whether they actually believe that or not, is another story. Actions speak louder than words and quality leaders are few and far between.
Different Leadership Styles Breed Different Employees
I am a police lieutenant for a large organization in Arizona and have been a sworn law enforcement officer for 15 years. Currently, I supervise 13 sergeants and approximately 100 detectives. Throughout the years, I have worked for many different supervisors with many different leadership styles.
Police departments are paramilitary organizations and breed several types of leaders. In a department with a strict chain of command, the most common type of leadership is the autocratic leadership style.
More than likely, you have worked for an autocratic leader before. Autocratic leadership is commonly referred to as “authoritarian leadership” and involves very little input from others. Authoritarian leaders rely on their own intuition and decision making processes rather than asking for the opinion of others.
This type of leadership is common in the military and law enforcement. Autocratic leaders are great at following a set structure and chain of command but tend to breed robotic employees. Employees are generally not allowed to think outside of the box and creativity is discouraged.
Authoritarian leadership is great in intense situations where there is little time to think. For example, military strike teams and police active shooter situations require immediate leadership and clear direction. These types of functions do not allow for a democratic decision-making process during the incident.
Unfortunately, most autocratic leaders are unable to switch between leadership styles and tend to stick with what they know best even during less stressful times. Barking orders and creating robotic employees who only do what they are told is what these leaders know – and do best.
Hands Off “Leadership”
While I have seen my fair share of autocratic leaders, I have also seen many people who prefer the “hands-off” approach. These leaders are afraid of confrontation and allow their employees to run the operation with little managerial input.
Many employees love this leadership style because it allows the employees to work with little to no rules or supervision. Unfortunately, this leadership style can lead to scandals and deep-rooted issues because minor problems are allowed to grow into larger ones.
The hands-off approach can breed rogue employees who do not adhere to rules or regulations and they can develop a strong sense of entitlement.
Servant leadership is the leadership I use to supervise my 13 sergeants and nearly 100 detectives. Now while it may appear to be a bit biased because it’s my style, I can tell you from experience it is much easier to create “buy-in” with this type of leadership strategy.
Servant leadership is the practice of putting your employees’ needs before your own. By leading as a servant, employees learn to trust you have their best interests in mind rather than your own.
The reason I choose to lead with a servant leadership style is because of the incredible transformation I have seen in employees. I have been able to take squads of officers that were disgruntled and upset with working conditions and help transform them into productive energetic employees.
How did I do it? I didn’t – THEY did.
The idea behind servant leadership is to empower and develop your employees. By caring for them and doing what you can to provide training and mentoring sessions, employees can begin to grow and develop into employees you didn’t think existed. It’s not about what you do as a leader, but what you don’t do.
By getting out of their way and giving them the tools and ability to make certain decisions, employees will begin to grow and thrive. Empowering your employees gives them a sense of purpose and direction as well as input into decision making.
How I Practice Servant Leadership
Servant leadership is not the practice of letting your employees walk all over you and call the shots. Servant leadership really comes down to your employees knowing that you are the one who will make the ultimate decision. However, in the decision-making process, they feel comfortable to share their opinion or research on the matter before you make the final decision.
Giving your employees a voice will make them feel valued – and increase the quality of your decision making. I am a big proponent in that more minds are better than one and often my employees have a better solution to a problem than I may have come up with.
By swallowing your pride and being willing to listen, you can better serve your employees and they will trust and defend you more than you thought possible.
Use These Steps To Be An Effective Servant Leader
By focusing on these categories, you can better prepare and empower your employees to be successful which will, in turn, make you and your organization successful.
Be A Good Listener
The most effective leaders listen more than they speak. Listening to others is an incredibly valuable skill that breeds both validation as well as trust in a workplace setting. In theory, you should listen twice as much as you speak. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them accordingly.
While you are listening to your employees, do your best to understand them at their level. Focusing on how your employees feel and process information is what it means to be empathetic. Similar to try walking a mile in someone else’s shoes – showing empathy helps you connect on a more personal level with your employees.
Understand Your Weaknesses
I am fully aware of my strengths as well as my weaknesses. Many leaders are afraid to recognize their weak areas in leadership and refuse to bring people into their teams that are stronger than they are in certain weak areas. Failing to admit flaws is inherently flawed as well. I am a huge proponent of the phrase “if you’re the smartest one in the room – you’re in the wrong room.”
When I recruit new supervisors to my unit, I focus on leaders who I can learn from and who will compliment my strengths and weaknesses. It has taken years to get to this point but I am no longer challenged or intimidated by people who are smarter than I am. I now openly welcome them into my team to make both my squads and me better.
Creating “Buy-In” The Ultimate Weapon
By far the best strategy of the servant leadership function is the ability to create buy-in through persuasion. Buy-in is the idea that your employees embrace a new idea or direction as their own and take ownership of the process. In traditional leadership strategies, employees are told what to do and given a direction.
Servant leadership focused on buy-in actually makes the employees feel as if they were the ones that came up with the idea and helps them feel more passion for making the project or direction successful.
How does this work?
Let’s assume your company is actively losing money in a certain area and you need to quickly change direction or add a fix that will improve its profitability. You have analyzed the data and know exactly how you would like to change your processes in order to improve the situation.
You have a couple of different options. You could lay out the problem and tell your team how you’re going to fix the solution and what they need to do to implement the change.
The second servant leadership option is to bring the problem to your employees and guide them in a discussion where they ultimately come to the same solution that you have decided upon in your own mind. When your employees feel that they are the ones that came up with the solution, they will be much more likely to do everything in their power to make it succeed.
This can be done through active discussion and showing your employees the issues and possible solutions. By asking questions or challenging other proposes solutions with additional questions, in practice you can lead your employees to your desired solution without actually telling them your proposal. This is an incredibly powerful skill that, with time, you can master.
However, using this strategy may actually show that your proposal was not the best option and allows your employees the ability to come up with a better and more creative option. The sky is the limit when you have creative minds all working towards the same goal.
With Success Comes Wealth
If you are struggling to communicate with your team or business, take a step back and see who is doing most of the communication. If you are doing more of the talking and less of the listening, try to flip that ratio.
Through my leadership experience, I have observed that many “leaders” feel their employees are liabilities rather than assets. If you develop your employees and put a great deal of time and energy into developing them and giving them a sense of pride a purpose, there is a possibility they will turn into star employees focused on making you succeed.
Employees who feel a sense of ownership in your business will find ways to overcome obstacles and increase production and profitability. When was the last time you took a deep look at your leadership techniques? If you’re struggling to connect with your employees, it may be time to take a new servant leadership approach.
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