Whether your company is a startup or an established firm, I want to share a compelling leadership model that will get the best out of employees.

It's based on the seminal research of Jim Laub, president of Servant Leader Performance and creator of the Organizational Leadership Assessment (OLA). 

Out of a mountain of data, Laub discovered six characteristics of servant leadership that when actively demonstrated up, down, and across levels can lead to a thriving and result-oriented work culture. 

If you're new to the idea, servant leaders are people-centric, not egocentric. Their winning formula is to grow people and serve by shining the spotlight on their employees.

Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, calls such leaders "other-centric," meaning that they give more than they take; they "serve others" first.

Servant leaders are far from soft; they demand excellence and command a much higher level of trust from their tribe. Over time, according to Grant, they're much more successful.

Today, scores of successful companies embrace the practice of servant leadership, including Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Nordstrom, the Container Store, and WD-40 Company.

Learn and practice six characteristics

While Laub's research is only a part of that available in the servant leadership sphere, it remains a favorite of mine. Organizations looking to boost their leadership effectiveness can start with pursuing the practice of these six traits across all levels of management, in order to have an impact on the people they employ and on the customers they serve. 

1. Being able to display authenticity

Laub found that the best leaders are learners; they are open to input from others, even those below them. They are transparent and self-aware -- seeking to understand themselves and others to quickly problem solve to an agreed solution. By showing up daily with their most authentic selves and maintaining a high level of integrity, they generate trust seamlessly and develop more productive relationships than their less authentic counterparts.

Laub determined that true leaders put others before self. They believe and trust in their people -- their strengths, abilities, potential, and commitment to the job -- before they have to earn it. These leaders maintain a high view of their people, show them respect, and listen receptively to their needs in a nonjudgmental way.

3. Being able to grow their people

In Laub's research, great leaders provide for learning and growth, and develop potential and career paths for others. They also model appropriate behavior and build up their people through encouragement and affirmation.

4. Being able to provide direction

They will envision the future and use intuition and foresight to direct the organization forward; they take initiative and move out ahead; and they consistently clarify goals and expectations to get to the vision.

5. Being able to share leadership

Laub found that the strength in great leaders comes from sharing power and decision making, and pushing authority down to empower others. Because of their selfless nature, sharing status in relation to position or honor is a given. Lastly, they use persuasion to influence others instead of coercion.

6. Being able to build community

Great leaders, it was found, enhance relationships and relate well to others at all levels. They promote a sense of belonging and connection for all team members; work collaboratively and emphasize teamwork; and value the differences of others -- differing strengths, expressions, ideas, personalities, and viewpoints.

Closing thoughts

Whatever your belief about which evidence-based leadership framework or philosophy is most effective, it isn't as important as first finding out the health of your organization!

Once top decision makers clearly understand how employees feel about the environment they work in, they can determine the best strategy for helping all levels of management successfully navigate the challenges and demands of the future.

What I know is this: Most organizational crises happen under managers unable to communicate effectively and positively manage change. To reiterate a clear and simple path to leadership development, the first step is always to assess the leadership strength and health of an organization.

Published on: Apr 12, 2018