The global pandemic may have thrown what would otherwise have been a relatively stable and certain future into an imbalance. Yet it also seems that it has precipitated a marked shift in priorities when it comes to leadership effectiveness.
Indeed, across the world, leaders who consistently put people first—servant-leaders—have emerged triumphant in the fight against COVID-19. Clearly, times of monumental change call for markedly different leadership styles, favouring compassionate and people-centric approaches the most.
Servant-leaders, in particular, often engage in specific leadership practices that spur steady and constant growth and resilience even in times of crisis; here’s how they do it.
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Every servant-leader practice is inherently underscored by a simple philosophy: put people before personal gain. The world has seen enough of self-serving leaders; one may even argue that the predicament we find ourselves in today boils down to a series of bad decisions made by leaders who prioritised material gains over everything else.
Servant-leaders, though, espouse an entirely different leadership philosophy. They don’t see people as means to an end, be it greater profits, or more authority, control, and power.
Instead, they are unequivocally committed to putting their people’s needs before their own. They are driven by the sense of meaning and purpose that comes from helping people strive continuously towards personal growth against all odds.
To that end, they work tirelessly to ensure that people have what they need to show up as the best versions of themselves at work every day.
Above all, they practice what they preach, and lead by example. Servant-leaders don’t just pay lip service to building positive company cultures and healthy working environments. They live, breathe, and model the culture they want to see, allowing people to take their cue from their leaders.
It takes empathy to be a great servant-leader. After all, different people need different things to thrive and come into their own, especially in a time of crisis as this.
Just as a green-thumbed gardener knows that different plants need different amounts of sunlight, nutrients, and types of soil to grow well, servant-leaders understand what each of their people needs in order to achieve their best possible outcomes.
This, however, doesn’t happen overnight; it requires a long-term investment in personal relationships, not just for the purpose of getting to know people, but in order to reach a level of psychological comfort and trust that enables positive influence to occur without much resistance.
For that reason, servant-leaders always take the time to sit down with people and relate to them on a personal level, as human beings as well as employees. They carve out time to engage in personal coaching, helping identify their strengths as well as areas for improvement.
In times of crisis, especially, servant-leaders make full use of one-on-one coaching to encourage a success-seeking, not failure-avoidant mentality.
Research has shown that such a mentality is hugely beneficial towards creativity and innovation.
The latter cripples adaptability and calcifies resistance to change, which then renders pandemic responses less effective; businesses to be agile and highly adaptable in identifying emergent problems and exploring and implementing new solutions.
Servant-leaders don’t assume that they know exactly what their people need all the time. People’s needs change over time, so servant-leaders don’t hesitate to ask people what they need. They also don’t just listen to what’s being said; they listen to what’s not being said too (through body language, tone, and other non-verbal cues).
Similarly, servant-leaders also take active listening to the organisational level by ensuring that people have safe spaces for open communication and non-judgment, to raise any concerns or questions they might have about work.
Former Starbucks company president Howard Behar, for instance, organised “Open Forums.” Baristas could come and ask any questions they wanted at these forums. These served as valuable platforms for feedback collation, and ultimately slowly extinguished people’s fear of speaking up and giving feedback in the first place.