In today’s article, I would like to start off by talking about being a servant leader and what that means to me. You see I have the greatest job in the world. I get to serve others and watch them flourish as tomorrows leaders. Throughout my career, I have mentored and consulted with many companies and individuals. I can’t count the number of times I have explained to others the concept of servant leadership. The idea is that you, as a leader, are in servitude to your team, not the other way around. Your most important goal should be to help your team be successful in life, as well as in their career. However, over the years I see a consistent problem with many people in leadership positions having it all backwards. These leaders think that the team is supposed to do what they are told and the team’s job is to serve the leader. It is my opinion that in most cases, anyone who falls into this category has never been trained in what true leadership is, how to implement such skills, and how amazing and rewarding it is to be a servant leader. In order to be successful as a servant leader, you must put your team’s needs ahead of your own and set your team up for success. That is what this article will touch on today.
It never ceases to amaze me how many leaders are quick to blame a team member when something goes wrong. Sometimes even going to the extreme of calling them stupid or worthless. However, in almost every case you should take a deep look in the mirror and ask yourself, what was the root cause of the problem. Did I communicate my expectations properly? Did I provide them with the proper support and training? In many cases, if you are honest with yourself, you will see that you probably fell short in one of these areas and the problem was, in fact, your fault.
I have a strong belief that most everyone wants to do a good job. There are only three factors required to ensure that someone has the ability to succeed. First and foremost is communication. Second you need processes and systems in place, and finally, you need to make sure that all team members are fully trained. If you supply your team with these fundamentals, then everything else will fall into place. So with that said let’s briefly explore these fundamentals.
Communication: Over the years I have developed strong processes to help ensure the success of my teams. The most important, and the one that has to be constantly improved, is communication. Poor communication is the number one cause of a team member not meeting your expectations. While there are hundreds of ways to improve communication, here is one simple example I used in my industry, to make sure I was clearly communicating with my team. Back in the day when I was running large projects, I would have a meeting with my team every Monday morning. We would go over a detailed three-week look ahead schedule which married with the General Contractors schedule. It would list every crew member and what was expected to be completed on a daily basis for the next three weeks. This plan would not only have what was expected to be completed but also the materials, equipment, and tools required to accomplish the tasks. I never saw a reason to go out further than three weeks because by the end of the first week you needed to adjust your three-week look ahead and revise the expectations for the following week. Things are too fluid on a construction site to expect that everything will go according to plan so constant changes need to be made and communicated to your team.
Armed with the three-week look ahead, every person on my team knew exactly what was expected of them and if they were ahead of schedule or behind schedule on a daily basis. Every team member could go home at the end of the day feeling good about what they accomplished, or concerned if they didn’t meet the daily goals. What I also found was that many team members were working through lunch or getting in early the next day because they were behind schedule. I didn’t have to tell them anything. Their pride took over, and they were self-motivated to meet the goals set on our project plan. That is the benefit of good clear communication. I want to take a minute to make an important point. When you set expectations for your team, make sure they are reasonable. If you set unattainable goals, you will end up having a team that is constantly defeated and will have an attitude of, why even try? Setting unattainable goals is a sign of a weak leader who feels they have to push everyone to their limits. This makes for a horrible working environment, and in the end, you will not keep many high performers.
Processes & Systems: I have always operated under what I call “the French fry theory.” The idea is that no matter where you go to a McDonald's; Florida, Georgia, California, or Europe, you get that same great tasting French fry. This isn’t done by accident. This is done by processes, systems, and training. You need to build a script for the customer experience. You want your team to understand exactly what you’re trying to create as well as your expectations. Processes make it easy for your team to follow. It also makes it easy to develop training in those processes and systems. This is the only way to get real consistency, be it in quality, customer experience, safety, etc. Processes and systems keep everyone tuned in to the vision of the company and the expectations of the team. I am not going to go into details about our processes. One, because I don’t want to give away anything that helps us gain a competitive advantage, but more importantly because what works for my business isn’t what will necessarily work for your business. But to keep it simple, take the time to think through what end result you want, and work backwards through each step. Then spell out a system or process for consistently achieving the desired result for each step.
Training: Training is my passion, and I could write a textbook on this subject alone, so I will try and keep this short. It’s really quite simple. What skills does your team need to obtain the create your vision? Every position that exists at your company should have a clear training guide. This guide will include specific and detailed training for every skill-set needed for that position. Hard skills are easy, such as MS Word or Excel. It would be an amazing world if companies just provided training in the hard skills, but if you want to set yourself apart and be truly world class, then you can’t stop with the hard skills. You should be training your team on all the soft skills required to see your vision to fruition, it includes leadership, how to deal with difficult people, customer service, emotional intelligence, and so many more. Again I could fill pages with soft skills in which many people should be trained but unfortunately are not. The common practice seems to be to throw them into the deep end and see if they sink or swim.
One comment I get consistently is that “I don’t have the money to provide all the training.” That isn’t true. Many people may not have the money to send all of their team members to formal training, but you can do in-house training. For example, who do you have that is the strongest in Excel? Have them put together a class to help train team members that are weaker or could learn some more advanced techniques. Or, pick your strongest leader and have them put together a series of thirty-minute training sessions for your team. Don’t have anyone that could be an in-house expert? Then send one person to some training and have them share what they learned in-house once they complete the training. Can’t afford to send one person to a class? Ok then read a book, watch a YouTube video, heck, read this article and then set up a quick training session for your team. The bottom line is getting your people trained and positioned for success.
In closing, I want to say one last thing about training. A leader once said, “I am not going to spend all that money training my team.” When asked why? He replied, “What if I spend all this money training them and they leave?” To which I asked, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”
I hope you all enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. This article touches on my true passion which is helping others to be successful, in life and their careers.