7 Habits of Effective Servant Leaders

January 24, 2014 | Roger and Susie Engelau

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking a lot about servant leadership.

I shared why servant leadership is so effective.  I shared the 10 vital characteristics of servant leadership.

But I’ve received several questions from people who want to know how to put it into action. What steps can I take? What exactly do I do to become a servant leader, to build a caring community of loyal, hard-working people who’d go to the ends of the earth for your company?

First things first, you’ve gotta find the time.  The first step is to carve out at least 5 hours a week to spend with your employees and focus on servant leadership.  As you do, here are 7 steps—or habits—you can implement along the way.

1.      Make sure they have the training they need.  As you increase your awareness of  your role as a servant leader, you might find that you’ve been neglectful in terms of making sure they have the training they need to accomplish what you’ve asked them to accomplish.  Take a good, hard look at each person and figure out where they lack knowledge or skills.  Get them quality training, and make a commitment to training from here on out.

2.      Coach them—observe their work and give them feedback.  As a servant leader, you’ll take a vested interest in their ongoing development.  Set a goal to observe some aspect of each of your direct reports doing their job and follow it up immediately with a feedback chat —once every month or two for each of your direct reports. Expect your managers to do the same. When you give feedback, give at least twice as much praise as criticism and give the praise before the criticism. (People can’t “hear” the praise once they’ve heard the criticism). Make the praise specific and genuine.  When you need to offer correction, make it about something specific you observed, ask what steps they think they can take to improve, and offer your own action step if you have an important one they didn’t mention.

3.       Get feedback from them. Take time to sit down with your key team members and find out what’s on their mind. Some of the best innovation comes this way. First ask them what’s going well in the company. Then ask if they have a suggestion. As soon as possible, give them implementation support for their suggestions.

4.      Provide technology improvements.  This shows your team that you care about their time and making sure they have what they need to get things done.  Technology advances at a rapid pace; keep on top of technological developments that can improve the quality and quantity of your delivery and help make your employees’ lives easier.

5.      Pay them a living wage so that they can support their families.  Don’t nickel and dime them.  Pay a fair, living wage.  Make it worth their time to come to work,

6.       Promote from within. One of the most important ways to retain quality team members is to show that there’s room for growth and advancement—a real upside as they continue working with you.  Give your existing employees a chance at higher-level jobs.  You already know their values match yours (at least, they should or they shouldn’t be there) so if you think they can learn the new skills, train them vs taking a chance on an unknown person outside your company.

7.        Share your vision. Servant leaders are visionaries.  Share your dreams with everyone in your company—and then show them how their personal dreams can tie into the overall vision for the company.  That is, as the company succeeds, you all succeed.  Care about their dreams as much as you care about your own.

Make servant leadership a priority, and you’ll create a team that’s positive, hard-working, and fiercely loyal. What about you?  You’re probably leading like a servant in some ways–maybe you don’t call it that–but what servant leadership tips do YOU have? What do you do to put servant leadership into practice in your company?