“TRUE leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not to enrich the leader” — John Maxwell.
It is just less than a month from D-Day. And as we draw near to the day when we will choose the next set of leaders who will shape and direct the course of our country in the next six years, I am reminded of this leadership quote from management and leadership guru, John Maxwell. A true leader is committed to serving the interest of others rather than serving his own. They are focused on the growth and well-being of the people and the community they serve and not on amassing the wealth and power that comes with their position. Yet, we have seen and experienced how some people in power have abused their position to advance their personal interests over the welfare of the people they lead, and still call themselves leaders. Sadly, sometimes, we are guilty of putting them in this position.
How do we then identify and distinct a servant leader who puts the interests and benefits of others before themselves and whose leadership motto is “You Before Me”? A good leader possesses so many traits and characteristics that make him/her one. But having had the chance to lead various leadership positions and work with different kinds of leaders in my more than 30 years in corporate and in serving a few civic organizations, I have observed that there are at least 5 qualities that are foremost among the servant leaders. Now, let us clarify that servant leadership does not mean doing the job or giving in to the whims of others. It doesn’t mean waiting in line on others’ behalf or carrying stuff for them. Servant leadership is about putting the needs of others first and empowering them to perform at their best.
Understanding of oneself and of others. A servant leader has good knowledge and understanding of oneself. He/She is aware of his/her strengths and how these can be tapped to better serve others. At the same time, knows and is comfortable with what he/she lacks or needs to improve. What do you value as a leader? What are your motives and goals when making decisions as a leader? With this knowledge of oneself, a leader is in the best position to understand others as well. It is easier for them to understand and address the needs and concerns of their people and how best they can bring them towards the accomplishment of goals. As one leader shared, ”the only way to effectively lead a team is when a leader takes a genuine interest in truly knowing and understanding the needs of the team members.” When our leaders show interest to understand us, we feel important and valued. When was the last time your leader made you feel understood and valued?
Empathic listening. But to be able to understand others, servant leaders listen with open minds and hearts. They pay full attention to what others are saying or not saying, regardless if they share or do not share the same principles, ideas or beliefs. They are neither discriminating nor judgmental. Rather, they are receptive and exert effort to recognize the matter from other people’s perspectives and understand their feelings and emotions. They are able to actively listen and put themselves in the situation of others allowing them to appreciate their situations even better. Despite the many tasks before him, a servant leader has the skill to make others feel that they are his only audience at a given moment. I remember a colleague saying, “I hate it when the boss continues to engage on his cellphone while we do our catch-up meeting. It makes me wonder if he really listened and cared about what I was saying.” Oftentimes, team members do not expect their leaders to do anything but listen. We feel the respect and the recognition when our leaders attentively listen to us and honor what we’re going through. Is your leader really listening or just merely hearing?
Influencing. When a leader listens and understands others, it will be much easier for him/her to influence. To have an impact on others’ behaviors, attitudes, and actions is an important leadership skill as people can always have a choice and decide how much or little they will contribute and support the attainment of the goal. To influence is not to manipulate, coerce, or force your own beliefs, thoughts, and ideas on others. It is the art of knowing what motivates others and what makes them commit and using this knowledge to cause them to move towards a certain direction. It is not telling, it is selling. It’s considering their feelings and selling to them the benefits of a certain idea/action. Influencing starts with the leader himself/herself. People follow their leaders because they believe and like what they see in their leaders. They see and feel the authenticity and sincerity in their intentions. But for a leader to effectively influence others, he/she must be present, must be heard, and must be with the people. A leader’s mere presence, manner of speaking, and gestures can already influence one's thinking and actions. When was the last time your leader was around to have a positive effect on you?
Empowering/Developing others. A leader’s primary role is to inspire and help their people grow and develop their full potential, more than developing and advancing their own growth. If your leader is one who makes all the decisions, facilitates all the meetings, relegates members to support roles, and takes all the credits, then that is not leading at all. True leaders allow team members to participate and contribute to decision-making, take an active role in major projects, and improve their confidence both as individuals and as part of the team. They are confident and secure to give their people the center stage to shine. It has been observed that when team members are allowed to grow and feel empowered, they are more engaged, supportive, and committed to achieving not only their own goals but that of the team as well. Do you feel that you are growing and being empowered by your leader?
Fostering a culture of trust. A leader should be trusted and is trusting. Learning how to build trust in the team is critical for an effective leader. Without trust, it will be very difficult to have openness, collaboration, and teamwork. First, a true leader makes sure that he is worthy of the trust of his/her people. There should be no room for doubts, pretensions, and hidden agenda. They should be credible so that people will listen and want to follow them. On the other hand, leaders should create an environment where members feel safe and secure that they have each other’s back. Where everyone is allowed to make a mistake and rise from it. Where everyone is included and not left behind. People are more involved, creative, and productive when they are led and in the company of people they can trust. Are you sure you can trust your leader 100%?
Leadership is not just about the fancy title or being in the top and most powerful position. Leadership is about adding value to other people. Whether in private or in a government office, leaders play a very crucial role in shaping and in determining the future of the organization and of the people they lead. This May 2022, we have the power to put the rightful leader who will bring us to our desired state 6 years from now. Now ask yourself this question, “For the leader that I am voting for, is it the case of "Me before you" or "You before me"?