University of Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari is a living legend who has racked up nearly 700 wins over a 25-year career. He has guided six teams to the Final Four and led one to a national championship. He just knows how to win.
Calipari also knows how to lead. A "players-first" coach, he has helped 42 of his own players earn selection in the NBA Draft.
Two years ago, while accepting the prestigious Alltech Humanitarian Award, Calipari defined the essence of true leadership in his speech with this memorable quote:
Leadership is about serving everyone under you, asking yourself, 'How do I give you the tools you need to succeed and proceed?'
A Slam Dunk
In that quote, Calipari proved that he fully understands that to lead well means to put your focus on inspiring and developing the team. That's how servant leadership is defined in its most raw and potent form.
The big idea behind servant leadership, as practiced by some of the world's top executives, is to flip the power pyramid upside down so the leader is at the bottom empowering and lifting up its followers to be and do their absolute best.
Whether in basketball or business, that's a break-away slam dunk.
Here's what you'll see the most awe-inspiring servant leaders do, day in and day out.
1. They are aware of, and responsive to, the needs of their employees.
Great leaders show an interest in their people's jobs and career aspirations. They look into the future to create learning and development opportunities. They find out what motivates their best people by getting to know what desires will drive each tribe member. This is about emotional engagement.
Knowing what makes each one of them get up in the morning can help you develop tasks and provide incentives they will actually care about. And make sure that it plays to their individual strengths to keep them engaged and learning on the job.
2. They instill confidence in people.
A goal of every leader is to ensure team members have high levels of self-efficacy. It's giving them the feeling to know "I've got this" and the freedom to own their decisions and even encourage them to make mistakes, because that's how they'll learn and grow.
Leaders need to spend enough time building relationships with their people and asking the right questions to understand the challenges they face, so that they can remove the obstacles in their path.
In his speech, Calipari said, "Don't just ask how they are doing. Instead, ask: What are you working on? How is it going? "The answers will be the best indicator to find out how they are doing."
3. They share leadership.
Servant leaders naturally seek out input on decisions that affect the business and involve the team in a decision-making process.
Sure, you still have the authority to make the decision as a leader, but the clear difference is you've engaged your team in the process.
As a servant leader, you share power and release the control because you understand that power and control come from the whole. It's the enthusiasm and commitment the whole team has to something--to specific projects and tasks that drive organizational objectives.
4. They listen and are open to feedback.
We are in a knowledge-worker economy where customer-facing people on the front lines know more than their bosses. Good leaders will leverage this as a way to get more valuable feedback from employees. They will sit down to listen and learn something from a younger, less experienced, but more savvy knowledge worker.
When employees are given that type of opportunity to provide ideas, engagement skyrockets. They are excited and motivated to go to work in the morning because they know that they have a voice and their opinions count. They know that leadership is relying on them for input.
5. They make people better human beings.
This is what puts great distance between mere managers and servant leaders operating in the relationship stratosphere. In their heart of hearts, they know that empowerment of people--putting someone else's needs ahead of their own--not only leads to great business results but it also leads to people growing and achieving great results in life.
"The state's mission for me is to win titles; my mission is greater," says Calipari. "My mission is to be a vehicle to help others reach their dreams, to be the stone that creates the ripple in their lives that goes on and on."
Servant leadership is the highest form of influencing people (employees) I can think of--influencing their thinking, beliefs, growth, and development--that will unleash their power and potential so they can impact your business and the greater good. What leader doesn't want that?