In a previous post, I wrote about Matt Tenney, a leadership consultant with a fascinating background that included five-and-a-half years in prison. In an interview, Tenney shared some inspiring lessons he learned from that experience, and offered some simple advice to IT leaders: Rather than focusing on what’s in it for you, focus instead on how you can be of service to others.
Separately from our discussion, Tenney had compiled a list of 10 tips to help leaders adopt a service-oriented perspective, and to thereby achieve professional and personal fulfillment. I thought those tips were well worth passing along here:
- Focus on developing your influence as a leader. The qualities that make a great leader are quite different from those that make a good employee. An employee’s worth is judged based on how well she carries out the different tasks in her job description. But a leader’s worth is judged based on how well she is able to influence the behaviors of those on her team.
- Create a culture of servant leaders. Can you imagine being able to attract the most talented people in the IT industry, ensure that they’re fully engaged while they’re at work, and feel confident that they’ll stay on your team for the long haul? What would that do for your organization? Clearly, a great workplace culture—which is responsible for all three achievements—is one of the most important competitive advantages you can possess. The key to creating a highly effective workplace culture that people want to be a part of is to make sure that team members feel cared for and that they’re a part of something meaningful and inspiring. This is accomplished easily when you build a culture of servant leadership.
- Increase innovation by being more compassionate. Most IT leaders are aware of the importance of innovation, but many make the mistake of assuming that creativity and innovation are synonymous. Creativity, which is the ability to generate novel ideas, is not necessary for innovation. Innovation is a function of sticking with and executing on ideas—whether new or old—that don’t conform to the status quo, which results in turning an idea into something tangible, useful, and differentiated. So if you want innovation, you need to create an environment where people feel safe to take risks and stick with ideas that deviate from the norm.
- Focus on your most important customer. Organizations that deliver world-class customer service have a few things in common. First, they spend very little money acquiring new customers because they’re able to keep the ones they have and because those customers are constantly referring others. Second, they don’t have to compete on price, because their customers are willing to pay more for the excellent service they receive. And perhaps most important, their external customers aren’t their number one priority. The members of their organization are.
- Stop fixating on providing perks and pay more attention to the little things. Perks alone don’t result in a team culture that people want to be a part of. Perks are easily copied, and can be seen as a façade. What’s most important is to consistently show team members that you truly care about them—and believe it or not, that doesn’t take a lot of money or effort. Little things like making time for personal interaction, asking more questions, listening more, and showing sincere appreciation for a person’s efforts can go a long way.
- Make serving others a habit. Hardwiring servant leadership into your behavior is all about being mindful of seemingly small thoughts, decisions, and actions. For example, each time you’re about to interact with someone, ask yourself, “How can I help this person?” or, “How can I contribute to this person’s happiness?” You don’t need to have an immediate answer. Just adopting this attitude changes the dynamic of an interaction in positive ways.
- Gain power by giving it away. A common misperception among leaders is that they need to be the ones coming up with all of the great ideas, or to be the people making great things happen. The best leaders are the ones who are able to harness the talent and intelligence of the entire team. You can do this by pushing power down to the lowest levels possible. This is a great way to serve the people on your team, because empowered people become much more engaged in their work. You can empower your team members by involving them in decision-making to the greatest extent possible, ensuring that they truly feel heard. You can also give team members final decision authority on tasks within their area of expertise. Just make sure that you’ve previously communicated the organization’s core values so that they can guide decision-making. Let your people know that as long as a decision doesn’t conflict with a core value, you trust that they’ll do the right thing.
- Inspire your team to greatness. One of the greatest gifts we can offer team members is the gift of inspiration. An important role of a leader is to clarify not only what the team does for the customer, but what the team does to make the world a better place. The leader must also ensure that each team member can see clearly how his or her work contributes to that larger vision, and find ways to frequently remind team members of their purpose. You can also inspire greatness in others by working to develop your character so that you consistently do the right thing, even when the personal costs are very high. At some level, each of us aspires to be a person who puts others first and always does the right thing. When we see someone else living in that way, it touches something deep inside us. We are reminded of who we can be.
- Measure the things that really matter. Most of us do a fairly good job of measuring our progress toward quantitative goals. In our personal lives, for instance, we measure progress toward checking items off of our to-do lists, losing weight, or making money. Likewise, large organizations measure things like sales numbers, expenses, and quarterly profits. What we need to do a better job of measuring is who we are and how well we treat each other. When we measure these things, we make a much better effort to improve in them. Remember, it’s who we are and how well we treat each other that drive long-term success. Seek feedback on how well you as a leader live the values of the organization, and how well you treat the members of your team. You should also measure those things in your team members. By doing so, you’ll make it clear that they’re important, and that people must develop these areas to be considered for a leadership position.
- Practice mindfulness to become the ultimate leader. Mindfulness training is a simple, science-based practice for developing emotional intelligence. Most people want to do a better job of serving and caring for the people around them. Mindfulness training helps us close the gap between intention and action. The practice has been proven to be extremely effective at increasing resilience during stressful situations, which will allow you to live up to your ideals of serving and caring for others, even when you’re under intense pressure to hit a goal. The practice also gradually makes kindness, compassion, and a spirit of service your natural response to the people around you.