Do You Serve Or Lead?

You finally obtained your dream job. Your title might be CEO, vice-president, head coach, orchestra conductor or school principal. Regardless of your craft, now your success depends on your ability to motivate, develop and coach those you lead. As a senior leader, you’ll be evaluated on the performance of others rather than your own direct work product. Your people need a leader, not a doer.

Those you lead come to the table with different personalities, motivations and levels of self-awareness. Most people who achieve their dream job naturally assume people reporting to them need to adapt servant leaderto their leadership style. After all, that style earned you recognition and promotion. You’ve made the effort to adapt to your leaders’ various styles along the way so now it’s only fair to expect other people to accommodate yours, right? Well, maybe not. Truly great leaders are humble, and smart enough, to understand that different leadership styles and approaches are necessary to get the best out of different people. They know what makes people tick and adjust their style to the unique motivators of those they lead. Here are some ways to tailor your leadership style to others rather than expecting them to conform to yours.

Servant Leadership

At the heart of this adaptive approach is the concept of servant leadership, first presented by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. In describing this style of leadership he noted:

It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.

The best leaders I’ve coached over the years adopt this servant leadership mentality. They want to be successful, yet realize their own success is achieved and magnified by making others successful. Embracing servant leadership is truly a matter of the heart. Many people can verbalize this concept but in reality are actually more motivated by personal recognition, wealth and accomplishment than the success of their teams. They are ego-driven leaders. Ego-driven leaders are typically very hard on their people, can be overly critical and demanding and blame everyone but themselves when things go awry. You know you are working for an ego-driven leader if you come to work wondering what kind of mood your boss or coach will be in that day. Conversely, people working for a servant leader don’t need to worry about the mood of their boss because they know the boss is most concerned about nurturing a successful team. As a leader, ask yourself if you are truly motivated to help others succeed or if you care more about climbing the ladder yourself. If you’re primarily focused on climbing the ladder, odds are you’ll fall one day.

Generational Differences

One key to tailoring your leadership style to make others successful is acknowledging generational differences. I recently wrote about the challenge and opportunity of leading Millennials. It’s important to understand the various cultural and technological influences shaping every generation. Servant leaders study these influences and adjust their styles accordingly. I’ll share an experience from my personal life that demonstrates this principle.

I recently had some construction work done on my office. The individual I hired had been recommended to me but I had not used him before. His work was outstanding, but when he finished I neglected to get his social security number so my assistant could send him a 1099 tax form for the work he performed for my business. I left him several voice mail messages requesting this information without any response. The IRS deadline was approaching and I needed documentation that we sent this form to him. I assumed he did not want to provide the information because he either didn’t have a social security number or didn’t want this income reported to the IRS. I texted him and received an immediate response with the information I requested. In his text he apologized for not getting back to me and stated that he hadn’t listened to voice mail in a week or so. I assumed that a personal voice mail would be deemed more urgent than a text. But I failed to appreciate that this individual was much younger I am, and his generation communicates via text rather than voice mail. I was also guilty of assuming this person lacked motivation because he failed to respond to my initial voice mails. This assumption was untrue and worse, unfair.

Imagine if this was someone I was responsible for leading rather than someone doing temporary work for my office. I would have settled on a negative impression of the individual’s motivation, and possibly character, which would have biased my judgment against him.

Motivational Differences

Another key to being an effective servant leader is recognizing that different types of rewards motivate different people. Intrinsically motivated people are energized by internal factors such as the satisfaction of doing a good job or bettering themselves through growth associated with a new challenge. Extrinsically motived people respond better to external factors such as a promotion or pay raise. In order to serve those you lead, you must know what motivates each individual and reward them accordingly. Some leaders are startled to find that a simple thank you or recognition of work well done may be more motivating to some people than a $5,000 spot bonus. Of course, the money would be nice too!

Obtaining your dream job is the beginning of your journey rather than the end. Accept the challenge of serving others rather than expecting them to serve you. If those you lead know you are truly motivated by their success, you’ll be shocked by the extraordinary results they deliver. In servant leadership, everyone wins.

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