Why I Think Leaders Are Servers!

I’ll remember my leader during the fun but I’ll cherish the moments they led me through a crisis.

The summer before my 10th grade my family moved to a new town in Georgia. Immediately upon arrival I completed try-outs for the high school basketball team and I won the position for # 2 shooting guard. As our team prepared for the season we felt invincible. We felt so confident that we would smash the completion. We lost almost every game. Team morale was very low. I remember the head coach during that time … she was loud, loud, and loud. Loudly proclaiming that we did not master the necessary court skills to win on game night.

In my second season a new coach arrived. The new coach was accompanied with a new coaching staff, new court plays and developed game day strategies around fundamental basketball. We had a breakeven season and even had fun. The changing of the guard for the high school coaching staff created a shift in our momentum. There was a renewed focus on mastering the art of basketball while nurturing talent with game time experience. We ended the season on a high.

My colleagues and I often describe our work lives as mountain peaks and valley lows. The peaks are truly high and the valley lows are extremely deep. During those deep valley moments, many of us look to experienced persons or coaches for wisdom and support.

Those persons are leaders. They are present and accessible during a crisis or moments of transitions. These are the moments where a leader’s emotional intelligence is tested publicly. Pride, selfish behavior and resistance to change are retired for a desire to the nurture team stability, employee growth and a positive team culture. Experience leaders answer the needs of their teams. They serve their teams.

The day I became a leader I also became a server. The price of entry for those that want to run large organization is service.

I can imagine your thoughts. Leaders are not servants. Leaders are setting strategy, managing external relationships, establishing enterprise partnerships and shaping the organization for the future. The greats sacrifice their time, mental energy and emotional capacity to provide those services to their organizations who are the ones responsible for day to day execution.

The second guessing of this point of view is natural yet the view fits well when you consider that leaders flow information out so teams can execute and bring business in. For example, the Chief Executive Office serves their Corporate Board and/or employee population with the following information:

• Clear company strategy, 
• Clear financial goals, 
• Time for coaching and mentoring, 
• Resources to execute strategy, and 
• Access to learning and training.

Without these elements organizations become ineffective. The impact will be magnified if silence during deep valley moments exists. The downstream effects can lead to chaos, lack of focus and attrition increases. Deep valley moments are the times when content and context of message are essential and must be communicated frequently with passion.

The basketball memory re-surfaced as I was experiencing my own changing of the guard at the office. Large organizational shifts can create a cloud of uncertainty as teams wait for affirmations from the new leaders. No one is expecting for much but they want to be reassured there is a thoughtful approach to change. While all answers may not be immediately known, there are actions leaders can complete to cultivate a work environment where teams can be effective and immune to organizational churn.

Below are a few tips that have worked well with my teams:

• Acknowledge the situation,
• Be practical, 
• Use appropriate messaging to manage employee morale and maintain performance,
• Stay data driven,
• If you do not know, then say so, 
• Do not forget some time ago, you were them.

Most importantly, leading is always about who is willing to follow you. Remember to Serve It Up! to your teams!

Flow information out describing company strategy, have a policy for positive vibes away, be accessible to your teams and use data driven messages so company strategy can be executed amid change.

And as always … people will remember their leader during the fun but they will cherish the moments when they were led through a crisis.