Servant Leadership 101: One Powerful Habit Effective Servant Leaders Share

8417804534Have you  witnessed  how  much time really effective leaders spend building relationships?  It is a continuous effort, a constant part of what they do – asking questions, listening, trying to understand what people are thinking, looking into what is happening from the perspective of others.

Leaders with the most inspired, engaged, and effective organizations  spend most of their time building relationships with and among people.  They naturally break down barriers and connect silos (see my post about silos here).

What is really going on here?  Every conversation, every new link made, every experience shared, every new person engaged builds the health of the network.  What network, you say?  The communication and relationship links across functional borders, across physical and geographic separation.   There is nothing profound about saying that people who are great “connectors” make it tons easier to get things done.  Great leaders within complex organizations intentionally and actively build links and connections – targeting the connections that most powerfully affect the way work is done, the quality of the work experience, the effectiveness by which the team accomplishes the mission.

I have often used the word “enabling” and “catalyst” to describe the impact of a servant leader.  How is such impact achieved?  By acting to enhance the way the human networks in their world work.

Imagine the improvement in influence and effect you would have if you constantly focused on improving the way the people in your life connect, share, and bond.  For many, it would be a transformative change.  Every moment spent in that state would build the effectiveness of others.

Try it out.  Go beyond the surface level and find out what is going on in the world of folks you meet and know.  Look to make a connection, to offer to help.

I have been inspired recently by Steve Beecham, a master networker and motivational speaker.  Take a look at Steve Beecham’s Bassackwards Business:  The Power of Helping Without Hustling.  His website is

And let me know what you think.

Related Content:

1.  What Are the Most Important Things Great Leaders Do? (

2.  How Leaders Create and Use Networks (

3.  Six Rules of Leadership Networking (leading


Quit Beating Around the Bush: 6 Steps to Making Difficult Conversations Successful (and Bearable!)

suncloudsHe so badly wanted the manufacturing management job, but he was just not showing the  talent to lead and care for a team.

As his manager, I  knew he dreamed of leading the group – he had been talking out it to his peers more and more.  That’s the only way I could figure it out – he would not really discuss it with me.  In fact, he had said on more than one occasion, “I wouldn’t really want to do that job.”   Confusing, eh?

It was time for that difficult conversation – the one that would let him know the company did not see him as management material, that this particular dream was not going to happen anytime soon.   But I really, really hate those conversations – the ones that close doors in someone’s career.  So I waited.  And I sort of dodged the issues in our one on one conversations.  Uggh.

One morning I snapped out of my glass-half empty, negative view of the situation.  He was good technically, a strong problem-solver, and could no doubt advance in his career by gaining mastery on the technical side, maybe coming back to leadership from that angle.  So now I had the positive, call-to-action destination for our conversation:  focus on using your technical strengths to help the organization, and you will be on a much more satisfying track to success.

Does this example sound familiar – have you ever delayed an important conversation because it would be difficult?  If so, hear are some steps that will help:

1.  Stop the negative self-talk!  Stop telling yourself, “I have to talk to Jim.”  The words “have to” are too passive, playing too much the victim.  Make a choice, step to up to assert control of the situation – tell yourself, “I choose to talk to Jim, because it’s the right thing to do.” [this concept inspired by the excellent book The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore]

2.  Identify your mission.  We must be very intentional about what we want out of a difficult conversation.  What emotional result, what follow-up actions – we want the individual to leave motivated to make a change with  enough hope and clarity to take specific actions in that direction.

3.  Do your homework.   It is likely that at team member needing course correction does not really see the key issues clearly – he/she is probably stuck in a confirmation bias where they only see the information that supports their current course.  So put together the clearest, most fact-based description of why change is needed, and why the new plan addresses the core issues.

4.  Choose your setting carefully.  If this is a meeting to motivate change but not to emphasize consequences, then choose a relaxed setting.  A meeting over coffee, for example, will make everyone less defensive.  If the time has come to paint a bleak picture, a more formal setting is in order.  You get the idea.

5.  Be prepared to listen.  What the team member has to say is critical to your understanding of the difficult issues – it may change your view of this situation.  Ask questions to search out his/her views.    Be open to new information which might help you influence things in a positive direction.

6.  Be brief, move toward action.  With all the preparation, be concise and clear.  Identify the situation, and then listen.  Move the conversation toward constructive action taking the team member’s views into account.

Not so painful, once you have a plan, right?  An effective, intentional discussion that leads to positive action.  Not a bad day’s work.

5 Steps to Better Listening (and more Effective Leadership)

Listening matters.


In fact, listening is one of the most essential disciplines of great leaders.  Note that I used the word “disciplines”, not the word “skills”.  Listening is a discipline – it is only done through constant practice, continuous attention.  You have to choose to do it.

Last time you tried to listen, did an internal voice or rogue thought distract you?  Did you jump ahead of the person speaking and begin to think of a response?  Was your ” listening” more about debate and persuasion – and less about understanding?

I have my own examples of poor listening and the rush to debate:  A few weeks back, a team member stopped by my office to express a concern that the company was on a wrong course with a particular customer, that what we were offering them was not what they needed.  For sure, he expressed his thought in a  criticizing way.  And immediately – as soon as I saw where he was headed – I  closed off my mind to his point and began to compose a response.  Each of us left the conversation irritated and unpersuaded.  Weeks later, it became clear that he was right.  The customer told us we weren’t deliver what they needed, and they went with someone else.  Arrgh.

What does the research say?  Put simply, listening correlates to effective leadership.

Try these 5 tips to improve your listening – start today!

1.  Commit to understanding, not just hearing.  Decide that the person you are talking to has something important to say.  Remind yourself that you could be wrong, or misunderstand, or not even know anything about this issue.  Really try to understand it.  

2.  Ignore the distractions.  The phone.  The text message or email pleading for your attention.  Give the person you are talking to your attention and respect.

3.   Maintain eye contact.   Do you really believe that someone is listening if they are looking at or doing something else?  People really cannot multitask at all – so if you want to understand someone, look at them.

4.  Let them speak!  Never interrupt, or launch into debate.  If you are tempted, see #1 above.

5.  Ask questions to confirm.  Put that inner voice, the one that so often distracts you, to work formulating questions that will help confirm your understanding.  Only when the person has paused in their speaking, should you speak.  And then first confirm your understanding.

And…never, ever use a follow up question as a means of turning around or distorting what was said.  What do I mean?  A team member comes to you with a problem and you tell them, “So what you are saying is that this problem is insurmountable, that the task is too hard for you.” You might as well kick them in the face, or call them a nasty name, for all the disrespect it shows.

Makes sense, right?  Just emulate the great listeners in your life.  That’s all.  You will build credibilty, trust, and influence.  Of course it is tough.  And incredibly rewarding.

What do You think?  I’m listening…..

Essential Qualities of a Leader: A Belief You Really, Absolutely Must Have for Servant Leadership

6918240903I am going to say something, and I want you to pay careful attention to your reaction.  How you react will tell us alot about how painful this is going to be.

Here it is:   You are not always right.  In fact, you are probably often wrong.  You might even be hopelessly self-deceived.

How did you feel when you read that?  Did you immediately bristle with offense, or frown with skepticism?  Did you defenses go up?  If so – we have a long way to go in leadership development.

I don’t want to hear your defense.  I am not interested in stories about how smart you are, or how you rose to leadership by being good at what you do.

If you believe you are always or even mostly right, I can tell you that servant leadership is a long, long way away.

For the belief that that answer lies outside us is what drives us to listen.  It’s what drives us to collaborate.  It’s what drives us to seek the expertise and voice of others.  It’s the engine of our desire to learn and to help others learn.   It is the energy behind our search for the truth in our leadership and decision-making.

It the root of humility and a servant attitude.

The truth is many of us have work to do here.  Admitting that we are often wrong or incomplete in our thoughts or decisions is not the kind of thing that comes easily or quickly or feels natural.

So starting at your very next meeting/conversation/event, tell yourself this one thing:  I do not have all the answers.

You may be surprised how quickly it transforms your leadership and effectiveness.