Leadership is not always about grand gestures. It’s not about mega-deals. It is not even about trying to be the hero of the day. Authentic leadership is about the little things as well as the big things. It’s the small yet consistent altruism. The keyword being “small” and “altruism.”
After years of observing leaders of different nationalities and ages, daily servant leadership gestures create a great work environment. Of course, the opposite holds as well. Self-serving, egotistical leaderships make for a fearful and toxic work environment.
Allow me to list a few small behaviors that the great leaders I had the privilege of working with exhibit every day.
1. Be generous with your “thank you.” This simple act of gratefulness goes a long way. Martin, a former department head of development I know, is an excellent example of a grateful leader. He would never forget to give thanks even for the smallest of things. On the flip side, I met leaders who would only show gratitude when they are in a good mood. True servant leaders are consistent.
2. Ask for people’s opinions and LISTEN. Have you ever had this uncomfortable feeling with leaders you worked with that would ask for your views and dismiss them? If your opinion is similar to theirs, they get hyped and excited. If your idea goes against the grain of their views, then it’s ignored or dismissed. These leaders are simply trying to validate their ideas. True servant leaders have a genuine ear for others. When they ask for your opinion, they listen.
3. Be true to your word. Matthew 5:37 of the English Standard Version Bible states, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Some leaders would tell you something to keep you in your place. They do not mean what they say. There was this manager I worked for in my early 30’s who goes around professing that he has an open-door policy. That was the leadership buzzword in the ’90s. I tried walking into his office on five different occasions to seek his opinion; his response is “I am a bit busy. can we have this discussion tomorrow?” After five failed attempts, I decided not to bother. All that talk about having an open door was lip service. It was just for show.
4. Stay true to the vision. Without a vision for the better good of society, where is your organization headed? How do you rally your team? What direction are you pointing to when you are rallying them? I had a client claiming to have a great vision. After a few weeks of insightful personnel interviews, it became clear that 99% of their employees do not know the company vision. Let me correct that. They do not recall their company vision because the owners used difficult words in crafting it. The Vision Statement became a display piece in boardrooms and hallways.
5. Stay true to the core values. Funny how leaders have an ironic set of values. Core Values apply to everyone except the executives or chosen few. Of course, this is never said in public. The funny thing is that the executives think they are getting away with it. Of course, people will notice. There was this company I know that has equality as a core value. The funny thing is – the executives have their own “restaurant” type area on the corporate top floor for their lunch breaks. Lunch was catered daily by a famous restaurant nearby. Food was free. Only C-Level and VP’s are allowed to dine there. We would usually share a big round table with the CEO. The rest of the 2,000 employees in the building goes to the 2nd-floor cafeteria. Food was paid for by employees. Where is the equality in that?
6. Catch people doing right and not just doing wrong. Have you ever noticed managers that are so quick in finding faules in you? These managers are always on the lookout to catch you violating a company policy. Why not try and catch people doing that right thing? The corporate world would be a better place.
7. Do not sacrifice your employee over an abusive client. When your leaders quickly side with a harsh and disrespectful client, it’s time to seek employment elsewhere. When leaders shout, “our people are our most important asset.” and put arrogant clients first, then employees will know they are not “first.”
8. Smile. A leader’s mood determines the work environment temperature. A visible foul mood puts employees in a “flight, fight or freeze” state of mind. People would be checking on the Leader’s “mood” coming into work before planning what to do for the day. “Is it a good time to speak to him?” “Should I raise this idea now?”. “Is it a good time to request for my vacation leave?” This is such a waste of time and energy. Instead of channeling energy to productive endeavors, employees channel their energy to protect themselves. Smile when things go your way. Smile when things do not go your way. The need to smile is more important in times of challenges.
The list above does not require tremendous effort. These are small things leaders can do to create a great culture. All it takes from servant leaders is humility and a mindset of servitude.
Culture is what a leader allows to grow.
@jordanimutan (social media)
“The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet.”
Back in the day when Fast Bank and Trust (FEBTC) was one of the best banks to work for, I mustered up the courage to apply for a job in their IT Division. Four sets of interviews, and a month after, I received a list of hiring requirements. I was ecstatic about the opportunity. Only about 20% of the applicants got in.
There are numerous things to learn in the field of Information Technology. Before joining FEBTC, I gathered a good number of years of experience as a developer. I was gradually moving into IT support. The primary goal of my function is to maintain and support the software and hardware requirements of the Bank employees. I had a dozen support engineers who perform scheduled maintenance of the hardware and software in the Head office and the different branches across the country.
I was pumped up with passion, reporting to work on the first day. The team I was managing was also excited about their work. They clearly understood the value they bring into the Bank. We cannot afford to have our IT infrastructure fail us, especially during banking hours.
As expected from a new hire working for my dream company, my first few months were full of new learnings. I reported to their IT facility, eager to work and serve the Bank and the employees.
The first impression of my new manager was great. He said all the right things like, “We are all one team here,” “You can always come to me for questions, I have an open-door policy,” “We welcome new ideas in our department.”
As the months go by, I started noticing that his words did not match his actions. Every time I requested a bit of coaching, he would always politely say that his calendar is already full for the week. We can try next week. He would be quick to shoot down ideas raised by the team in several brainstorming exercises for essential projects. Not only were the suggestions shot down, but it was also unfortunate that the person presenting got a bit of scolding.
In several meetings, he claimed that the successful idea was from him. He seemed to forget to give credit to the people who took his ideas and execute them.
Six months later, I noticed that the team stopped suggesting ideas in meetings. People also started to fear raising bad news. The team stressed that the messenger of bad news would get shot. Unfortunately, this feeling also got to me. I started keeping quiet in meetings. We just allowed our manager to run it the way he wishes. We kept silent for another reason. Keeping quiet allowed us to gather information from the ensuing discussions, so it was not so bad.
You can feel the energy level of the team drop to the ground. Our manager managed to extinguish our passion for our work. Some of the team members started reaching out to head hunters.
Fortunately, our manager was promoted. Yes, he was promoted to another function away from us. His successor was a true blue leader. Our new manager walks the talk. In a few short months, our passion returned, our motivational levels went through the roof.
Leaders! Let us not push our people to stop caring for our organizations. As the old saying goes, “Employees join companies. They do not leave companies. They leave their managers.”