There are many roads that lead to influence, but to truly inspire others to respond emphatically to your leadership, the best bosses arrive there because they lead by serving. In turn, servant leadership has become one of the highest platforms to launch you toward influencing others.

As the servant leadership movement swells, corporate America is finally catching on to the idea that developing, engaging, and taking care of the needs of followers will not only increase their performance, it's great for their bottom line too.

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You want to witness great bosses in action, the ones that truly and consistently inspire and lead through influence? There are certain behaviors they display, and none are cherry-picked from the "flavor of the month" leadership book; these behaviors are an expression of character -- it is who they are, not what they do -- that makes their leadership sustainable and worthy of trust and respect. 

1. They allow their followers to have a voice.

In traditional, top-down hierarchies, bosses at the top of the food chain will lay out a vision, then use power and control to move people to carry out the vision.

In servant leadership cultures, leaders will cast a company vision and enroll their followers to express their voice as co-creators and co-contributors to the vision. You'll find that people are liberated and empowered to collaborate, innovate, and engage. They have a voice.

2. They promote open and honest communication by getting and giving concrete feedback.

There's a type of leadership I have seen where employees walk on eggshells, they don't know where they stand, and how open they can be with each other or with their managers. This is a workplace where failure is feared and people don't feel valued. 

Kim Scott, a former Google and Apple executive and the author of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller,  Radical Candor, says all leaders should aim to do two things: Care personally and challenge directly.

Scott says if your tendency is to challenge directly, but you don't care personally (i.e., you check your emotions at the office door), Scott calls your leadership style "obnoxious aggression." Scott writes in Radical Candor:

When bosses belittle employees, embarrass them publicly, or freeze them out, their behavior falls into this quadrant. This Obnoxious Aggression sometimes gets great results short-term but leaves a trail of dead bodies in its wake in the long run. Think about the Anna Wintour-inspired character played by Meryl Streep in 'The Devil Wears Prada.

Here's the perfect balance: When you care personally and challenge directly, which is a rarity in most corporate settings even today, you're a leader who cares enough to tell an employee if you think he or she is making a mistake. Even more importantly, when they are doing performing something great. That takes radical candor!

Scott writes:

Be humble, helpful, offer guidance in person and immediately, praise in public, criticize in private, and don't personalize. Make it clear that the problem is not due to some unfixable personality flaw. Share stories when you've been criticized for something similar.

3. They are also radical listeners.

In Robert Greenleaf's legendary essay, The Servant as Leader, he said that "only a true natural servant automatically responds to any problem by listening first."

Renowned servant leadership scholar Kent Keith, a prolific speaker and author of eight books, including The Case for Servant Leadership, said:

Servant-leaders listen in as many ways as possible. They observe what people are doing. They conduct informal interviews, formal interviews, surveys, discussion groups, and focus groups. They are always asking, listening, watching, and thinking about what they learn. By listening, servant-leaders are able to identify the needs of their colleagues and customers. That puts them in a good position to meet those needs. When they do, their organizations are successful--their colleagues are able to perform at a high level, and they have happy customers, clients, patients, members, students, or citizens.

Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind make the need for good listening even more evident in their research published in the book Talk, Inc.

They found that the most effective leaders in over 100 companies employ the principles of "organizational conversation." The secret? Operate your business as two people having a conversation, which most big companies don't.

In their Harvard Business Review article, "Leadership is a Conversation," they said:

"Leaders who take organizational conversation seriously know when to stop talking and start listening. Few behaviors enhance conversational intimacy as much as attending to what people say. True attentiveness signals respect for people of all ranks and roles, a sense of curiosity, and even a degree of humility."

Published on: Jan 3, 2018
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