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Traits of Servant Leaders: Putting People First

How many places have you worked where they SAID, “we put our people first?” And how many places was it a true statement? Putting people first is an essential pillar of servant leadership based on the writings of Sipe and Frick in the Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership. But the words have been so overused and abused, I almost decided not to write a blog this week. Who would listen to ANOTHER article about putting people first?

So let’s skip that tired, misused phrase and go straight to the traits of the servant leader who actually lives out the behaviors of putting people first.  What does that look like?

Make a decision to serve. The first trait of the leader that puts people first is that they have made a conscious decision to serve the people they have been entrusted with. The authors say “how will you find, claim, and cultivate” the heart of a servant leader?  Now there’s a good question. As a leader, have you stopped and examined the basis for your leadership approach? Have you searched out your heart and decided that what you love about your work is being in service to others.  If you have, you are a rare bird. Few have taken a vow of service as business leaders. Most think a service mindset is reserved for people like Mother Theresa. Leadership could not possibly stem from our hearts.

This one thing I know. The only ones among you that will be really happy will be those who have sought and found how to serve.
Albert Schweitzer

Yet this is the counter culture idea I ask you to explore. Data suggests that those who start with the heart of service towards those they lead have superior financial results in their business. It seems that leaders who have found a passion, a heart for serving others are more successful than those who don’t.  Could you unlearn everything you’ve learned about leadership and make a daily decision to serve the people?

Mentor future leaders. The second trait is that servant leaders make time to mentor future leaders. But let me clarify. This is not the mentoring program most of us have attended, where you are assigned a successful leader who sits down with you a few times and lectures you on their life experience. No, true mentoring is not about the mentor. It’s about the mentee. I am currently mentoring a leader in my company. It is not easy to do it well. I can tell you from personal experience that it is difficult to stay intently focused on the mentee’s needs and to stifle that desire to tell the person everything you’ve ever learned. Your responsibility to the mentee is to help them develop their own wisdom. Ask them open-ended questions. Suggest that they do a new project that stretches them. Give them a safe place to take risks and grow.  Instead of talking, could you listen to the heart felt passions and aspirations of your people and figure out how you can help them?

Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.
Kouzes & Posner

Show genuine care and concern in your actions. The difficulty is, if you don’t know the people at work, you won’t be in a position to show much genuine care and concern. This year the leader of our People Services team asked us to do three things with our leaders.

  • Set up a block of time to ask team members what they aspire to do in their work life.  What do they want to learn? What role would they like to eventually reach?
  • Set up a block of time to understand your team member’s values. We used a value card exercise where the team member chose their top five values from a set of 34.
  • Set up a block of time to have your team member tell you their personal purpose for work. What means the most to them? How do they connect with the stated Purpose & Principles of our company?

These are three ACTIONS that led us to crucial conversations where you begin to really know the people that you work with every day.  With this investment of time in knowing people, you are in a much better position to show genuine interest in the people and care or concern for their work and life.

I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?
Mother Teresa

Conventional leadership teaching calls care and concern “soft” skills. They should be called “hard” skills because they are so hard for leaders to actually do. Human beings are REAL people with aspirations, goals, values, and plans for their lives. Building relationships with your people?  It’s powerful.  It’s personal.  It’s a lasting commitment. Could you set aside a substantial amount of time to know your people and exhibit genuine care and concern for them?

These three things – Decide to lead out of a motive to serve.  Mentor the future leaders by listening to carefully to understand their aspirations.  Show genuine care and concern for people by spending time with them – That’s putting people first. And it will deliver superior performance results for your business.

Lead. Serve. Succeed.

The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the individuals writing them, including Cheryl Bachelder, and specifically not those of AFC Enterprises, Inc., Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, or their respective parent, affiliate, or subsidiary companies.
Seven pillars of servant leadership: practicing the wisdom of leading by servingJames W.Sipe – Don M.Frick – Paulist Press – 2009
Image Source: http://www.womeningovernment.org/diabetes/disparities-toolkit

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Comments (3)

  • Stephanie

    This is a great article! I am fortunate to work at a company that allows me to put people first. I can object to an idea if I believe it will cause pain to our employees. It’s rare and I give thanks on a daily basis that I am fortunate enough to have landed at this company. This blog shows that there are other companies out there where the leaders are embracing people first. Sometimes I find that people first might be as simple as sitting with an employee and hearing about what’s going on in their life – just listening and asking probing, authentically interested questions. Other times it about sharing in a manner that makes you vulnerable but shows that you are a human being. The more I read these blogs the more I am inspired to be bold and continue to put my employees first!!! Much thanks & appreciation for the inspiration.

    Reply
    • Cheryl Bachelder

      Stephanie,
      Being genuinely interested in other people is the best way to tell someone you care about them. When people feel cared for, their productivity and engagement soar. You’re on the right track. Keep up the good work.
      Cheryl

      Reply

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