GREAT IDEAS FOR ENTREPRENEURS FROM THE THOUGHT LEADERS AT CASEY NEILON
HOW ENTREPRENEURS BENEFIT FROM A SERVANT LEADER MINDSET
SOME SIMPLE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TODAY TO REALIZE THESE BENEFITS
Servant leadership is a topic that gets a lot of press in entrepreneur circles. Just do a search on Google and you’ll see what I mean. There are hundreds of books and thousands of articles. Because this is such a talked-about topic, it can be overwhelming to even start thinking about it. I mean – which book or article do you pick?
Servant leadership sounds good, probably something we feel we should do (like exercising, eating right and going to the dentist). But I find that most entrepreneurs struggle with three questions. What is servant leadership? Why should I do it? How do I do it? In this article I want to build the business case for why entrepreneurs should adopt a servant leader mindset and provide some practical steps to help you get started.
What Is Servant Leadership?
I find that I struggle to describe servant leadership. This is a topic where the old adage applies – you know it when you see it. Servant leaders are known by the way they lead. So, in describing what servant leadership actually looks like, I find it useful to describe behaviors and situations where servant leaders really shine. Here are some examples:
- Servant leaders put the needs of others at the center of their attention – both clients and staff. They identify highest priority needs and work to address these.
- Servant leaders are great listeners. They engage in active listening and reflect back to others what they think they said by asking the question – did I hear this right?
- Servant leaders hear unspoken messages – what people aren’t saying but that deeply concerns them. They also have the ability to ask probative questions to go deeper.
- Servant leaders use influence and persuasion to achieve great outcomes. They create alignment by asking great questions and creating solutions.
- Servant leaders interpret messages and actions in light of the best intent from others. They believe the best in others and look for it. They find the positive in what can otherwise be perceived as negative situations.
- Servant leaders build relationships rather than being transaction-driven.
- Servant leaders take responsibility for outcomes and do not deflect blame to others when things go wrong. They do analyze root causes of what went wrong to ensure it doesn’t happen again, but without a blame mindset.
- Servant leaders are the people you want to connect with. They make you feel good, confident and they’re enjoyable to be around. You don’t even know you’re standing on their shoulders.
- Servant leaders encourage, inspire and coach other people to become their best selves and do their best work.
I’ll bet that if you look back on your career, some of your favorite bosses displayed many of these attributes. Servant leaders make great bosses.
Servant leaders inspire their teams to perform better and foster strong and lasting relationships with clients. This ultimately builds a better business.
Why Should You Become A Servant Leader?
I believe there are two major benefits that you’ll realize if you become more of a servant leader. The first has to do with your team. I find that servant leaders tend to have deeper, stronger and more trusting relationships with their team members. This ultimately impacts morale and performance. If you adopt more of a servant leader mindset, you might very well realize these benefits:
- Internally, you’ll empower people around you to do their best work. You can focus on the big picture while you trust others to take care of important tasks that are essential for growth.
- You’ll become a better role model to inspire other people to lead effectively.
- Your attitude will likely become the attitude of your staff. The way you treat people defines how they treat others – especially clients.
- The stronger your relationship with your staff, the more your staff will feel valued and important. This will bring out their best, the greatness within them.
The other benefit has to do with clients. This is especially true if you are in the services industry. When I look at the client-oriented benefits I see servant leaders producing, they are along these lines.
- Servant leaders build better, deeper and more long-lasting relationships with clients.
- Servant leaders foster trust with clients by working to understand their highest priority needs. They look beyond the obvious, the surface question, to determine the underlying concern.
- When clients trust, they listen and learn better. This makes them a better partner in decision-making to do what’s best for them. Much of what we do at Casey Neilon is about educating clients concerning options and potential outcomes of each option. Clients realize better outcomes when they take the best action on the advice we provide.
If you are in the service industry, much of your success will likely come from clients taking action on the advice you give – or allowing you to take that action for them. But often this will not happen unless clients deeply trust you. Servant leaders build that trust through active listening and making recommendations that are in the best interest of the client.
How Do You Become A Servant Leader?
It’s one thing to talk about servant leadership, but it’s an entirely different thing to actually do it. That requires a lot of commitment. Servant leadership comes naturally to certain people, especially those with high EQ – emotional intelligence. But for other leaders, especially those who are hard-charging and action-oriented, servant leadership may feel a bit touchy-feely. So I’d like to offer five simple ideas to help you work on becoming a more effective servant leader.
First, make it a priority. This probably means you’ll need to discover from others around you how much of a servant leader you are today. Here are a few simple questions you can ask people on your team:
- Do you feel like I actually listen to you and hear what you say?
- Do you feel like I use influence and persuasion more than power and decision-rights?
- Do you feel like I interpret messages from others in the best light possible?
- Do you feel like I take responsibility for situations when things go wrong without assigning blame to others?
The answers to these questions can help you understand where you are today on your journey to becoming a better servant leader. Most importantly, remember that this is a journey and not a destination. You can always get better.
Second, get a coach. Many senior executives and entrepreneurs today hire coaches because they really help. A coach can guide you with specific suggestions about how to become a better servant leader. They can also draw upon their experience and ideas from working with other executives.
Third, read books. I won’t make a specific recommendation here about servant leader books because there are so many of them. But if you go to Amazon books and put “servant leader” in the search bar, you’ll discover a lot of great options.
Fourth, attend conferences. There are a lot of leadership conferences today and they can really help. They’re easy to find on Google and are often not that expensive. Many industry conferences also bring in leadership experts to talk about the subject. So next time you sign up for an industry event, look for a session on leadership.
Fifth, practice, practice, practice. This is like a muscle. You have to exercise it every day or else it won’t grow. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t change overnight or within a short period of time. Keep going.
Servant leaders tend to make great bosses and very effective service providers. Employees and clients enjoy working with them because they feel connected, listened to and cared about. There are a few simple steps you can start to take right away to become more of a servant leader and reap the benefits I’ve described here. If you’d like to talk about any ideas I’ve put forward here, let’s have a conversation.
Nicola Neilon – CPA, SHAREHOLDER
I am a CPA and shareholder at Casey Neilon. In this role, I work with many small businesses and their owners. I love that this gives me the opportunity to go beyond just being a tax preparer or auditor. The long-term relationship that develops encompasses the roles of business advisor and trusted confidant. I have been serving clients in this capacity since 1997. My experiences have taught me that I am not Wonder Woman, nor do I have a crystal ball, but many people have no background in accounting and finance, and they need someone that they can trust to help them navigate a path to reach their goals.