3 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Set People Up for Success All Year Long

If you are a leader, the end of the year is an opportunity for you to celebrate and thank everyone in your organization who, throughout the year, contributed to its success.

However, encouragement and recognition shouldn’t be a once-a-year event—it ought to be a leader’s constant mindset, according to Ken Blanchard, management expert and coauthor of The New One Minute Manager® and Leading at a Higher Level. In Blanchard’s opinion, the most effective leaders focus on serving the needs of their people all year long.

Blanchard’s belief is that organizations run best when leaders at all levels see themselves as servant leaders. As he explains, “The best leaders turn the organizational pyramid upside down so that they are at the bottom of the structure, serving their people who are at the top. The leaders provide support, remove obstacles, and act as cheerleaders. They are there to serve their people—so that their people can better serve their customers.”

The good news is that leaders at all levels can serve their direct reports at an individual, team, or department level. Blanchard explains a step-by step process.

Get clear on goals. “All good performance begins with clear goals. Make sure that individual, team, department, and organizational goals are clear and written down so that they can be seen, communicated, and referred to frequently. Goals are too often unclear, poorly communicated, not written down, or never referred to until performance review. “

Discuss competence and commitment. “Managers must sit down with their teams to discuss what’s required to achieve each goal. In Situational Leadership® II we teach that people approach each new task or goal from one of four development levels: the Enthusiastic Beginner, where an individual is excited but inexperienced at the task; the Disillusioned Learner, where an individual becomes discouraged; the Capable but Cautious Performer, where an individual has some experience but still needs occasional support; or the Self-Reliant Achiever, where an individual has a track record of success. It takes time to make this diagnosis at the beginning of a task or when setting a goal, but it will save time in the long run by avoiding misunderstandings, motivation issues, and rework.”

Match your leadership style. “Depending on a person’s development level on a specific task or goal, the leader provides a matching leadership style—either by Directing, Coaching, Supporting, or Delegating. The objective is to provide the direct report with the correct amount of direction and support to get the job done while avoiding over-supervision or under-supervision. This is the essence of servant leadership. The focus is on helping direct reports achieve their goals.”

Blanchard encourages leaders to practice a servant leadership mindset with direct reports every day, not just at year end. “Your job as a leader is to help your people succeed. Set clear goals with them, diagnose their development level on each goal, and then provide them with the direction and support they need to achieve those goals. It’s the best way to serve your people—not just now, but throughout the year.”

You can read more about Blanchard’s approach in the December issue of Ignite!  Also check out stories on two companies putting these concepts into practice with great results—CHG Healthcare Services and WD-40 Company.

10 thoughts on “3 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Set People Up for Success All Year Long

  1. David, you’re totally right that recognition should be something offered year-round. When you only give it out at the end of the year, it just doesn’t have the same meaning. Kind of like handing out a participation trophy in little league – did you really deserve it?

    • Hi Sam–thanks for calling out the idea if recognition is only offered once a year it doesn’t have anywhere the same impact as catching people doing things right in the moment. Recognizing people for good work as it happens sends a much more positive message than a formulaic thank you at the end of the year.

  2. David, how do you explain to organizational leaders that it is possible to be a servant leader and a situational leader at the same time? When both are described as leadership styles, the complexity of the explanation seems to overwhelm the conversation and the message. Thanks, Tony

    • Hi Tony–thanks for asking about that–I can see how that could be complicating things! One way to keep things orderly might be to explain servant leadership as the overall mindset and a situational approach as one of the ways to bring that mindset to life on a day-to-day basis. What do you think?

      • I like that explanation. I began to break it down as a three-part structure that comprises a leader: Personality, approach, and interface. Using your words above, I will modify it to: Personality, mindset, and approach. I keep personality in the conversation because a servant leadership mindset looks very different to the follower in an HBDI-Red vs HBDI-Blue individual (or Myers-Briggs ISTJ vs ENFP).

        • Hi Tony–I appreciate you adding the personality component. I’m a big believer in adjusting your communication style based on the personality of the person you are communicating with. I think that is also a sign of a servant leadership mentality–as a leader you are modifying your style to meet the needs of another!

          • And that’s the next step – identifying the personality and implicit followership expectations of the other party and adapting your communication (verbal and otherwise) to the recipient(s).

  3. Great stuff here David thank you for sharing. One thing that I ask myself is “why don’t I do better goal setting and check-in’s?” I think that it’s a combination of things but having read the One Minute Manager it’s clear that the approach is simplistic but requires discipline. Too many managers (myself included) don’t take time to work on their business and actually act strategically.

    • Hi Mike–you are so right about it requiring discipline. It is time consuming at first to set goals and diagnose a direct report’s competence and commitment for the goal. It is also time consuming to set up one-on-one meetings on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to check-in and provide direction and/or support. (Personally, I don’t know how anyone does it with more than seven direct reports!) But I can tell you from experience that the time spent up front does wonders down the line. Much less heartache, accountability issues, or redirection that has to be addressed later. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion!

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