Have you ever wondered how some leaders just have that incredible ability to captivate a room and gain unanimous buy-in from their team?
At first glance, it’s easy to attribute their success to their charismatic personality or their incredible ability to articulate a clear and concise vision. But if you look closer, you’ll realize that the only thing that sets them apart from the rest is their servant leadership.
These leaders have a deep understanding of what it means to serve their team, and they use that knowledge to build a community that’s dedicated to achieving greatness, inclusion, and respect. What makes them great is their willingness to put their team’s needs above their own.
Now, you might be thinking that servant leadership is simple, but it’s actually quite complex. And it’s a lot more than just being a nice person.
What Exactly Is Servant Leadership?
Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that are based on the belief that the most effective way to lead is by serving others. That means taking the time to learn about and understand the needs of all your team members—and that takes time and intention.
It’s hard work. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, it can profoundly impact your team’s morale, performance, and overall success.
To help you get started on your journey to becoming a servant leader, here are nine servant leadership characteristics that all great leaders have.
1. They Are Self-Aware
Servant leaders know who they are—their strengths, their weaknesses, and how their actions impact those around them. When leaders take time to understand themselves and look at their own behavior, they’re able to spot their blindspots and pivot when necessary.
Self-awareness is a gift, but it’s not something that comes naturally to everyone. It’s not easy to look at yourself in the mirror and purposefully look for your strengths and weaknesses. But it’s a crucial part of servant leadership.
One of the best tools to help you become more self-aware is the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This personality test will help you understand how you see the world and make decisions and show you how your personality is a hindrance and help in your leadership role.
2. They Are Good Communicators
Servant leaders know the importance of communication. They understand that it’s not just about giving orders or broadcasting information. It’s about listening, too.
This is why if you want to build a strong relationship with your team, you must carve out time to listen and learn about their needs and goals. Communication is a conversation, which means that people need to feel heard before they’re willing to listen to your ideas.
If you’re willing to check in with your team daily, or even weekly, and purposefully engage, you’ll find that your company becomes a strong community. And one of the first steps toward building a solid community is communication.
3. They Are Humble
Servant leaders are humble. They understand that putting others first is foundational to their company’s success. This is why some of the top-level CEOs of Fortune 500 companies make it a point to have an open-door policy.
An open-door policy shows your team that you’re approachable and that you value their input. It’s also a way of building trust—something essential to any strong relationship.
While an open-door policy is one way to show your team that you’re humble, it’s not the only way.
You can also model humility by being vulnerable and creating an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes. After all, when your team sees your fail-forward, they’ll be more likely to take risks and innovate.
4. They Are Visionaries
Servant leaders always look toward the future. They see the potential in their team and their company, and they’re always trying to find ways to help their team members grow and develop.
Much like being humble, these leaders allow themselves and their team to grow. And they understand that growth can only happen when people feel like they have permission to progress without the burden of perfection.
One of the best ways to foster a growth mindset in your team is to give them opportunities to stretch themselves. This can be done through cross-training or letting them lead a project on their own.
People need space to dream of “what if” and “what could be.”
So, if you want your company to progress forward, try giving them the reigns and allow them to explore—even if they make a few mistakes along the way.
5. They Appreciate Feedback
Servant leaders embrace feedback. They don’t squirm or avoid confrontation. If anything, they crave divergence. This is because they know that feedback, whether positive or negative, is essential to growth.
To be truthful, it’s not easy to always hear what people think of you and your leadership. But it’s important to remember that hearing your team’s thoughts and ideas is a gift. It’s a tool that gives you the chance to improve and build your leadership skills.
One of the best ways to get started with feedback is to simply ask your team to share some ideas with you. You can create an anonymous Google Form, set up a suggestion box somewhere in the office, or even send out your Calendly link and encourage people to book one-on-one time with you.
There are numerous ways to collect feedback, but the most crucial part is that you take the time to listen and then act on what you hear. After all, it’s not just about being a good listener.
Your team wants to feel heard, and that means putting their suggestions into action.
6. They Lead by Example
Servant leaders lead by example. They walk the talk, and they don’t ask their team to do anything they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves.
Remember: The best leaders aren’t perfect—they’re just authentic.
If you want your team to respect you, be transparent and honest with them and show them what it looks like to reach the mountain top even when the journey is arduous.
This doesn’t mean that you need to share all of your personal details with your team or be an open book at all times. But it does mean that you should be authentic and vulnerable when appropriate. Doing so will help build trust and respect between you and your team.
7. They Don’t Micromanage
Servant leaders are great at delegating. They know that they can’t do everything on their own, and they’re not afraid to ask for help.
When they’re faced with a problem that isn’t in their wheelhouse, they’re quick to delegate it to someone on their team who is better equipped to handle it. This is why servant leadership isn’t about getting the praise. If anything, it’s about giving your team the opportunity to shine.
So, if you’re a leader who is used to micromanaging, it’s time to let go and give your team the chance to step up and show you what they’re made of. Not only will they appreciate the freedom to try new things and figure things out independently, but they’ll also bring that confidence to the office when they tackle the next project.
8. They Are Always Learning
Servant leaders don’t have all the answers. And in many ways, they don’t even try.
Great leaders understand that it’s not about knowing everything. It’s about being curious and having a willingness to learn.
One of the best ways to foster a love of learning in your team is to create an environment where it’s encouraged. This can be done by sending out articles, books, or podcasts that you think would interest them.
Another idea is giving everyone an annual membership to Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, or Skillshare.
When you prioritize learning, your team will feel comfortable asking more questions and facing the workday with a teachable attitude.
However, a culture of learning has to start with you. Once employees see you investing in your education, they’ll be more likely to follow your lead.
9. They Focus on the Long Game.
Servant leaders are focused on the long game. They know that greatness doesn’t happen overnight and that success is a marathon, not a sprint.
This means that they’re always looking for ways to improve their team’s skillset and help them grow in their careers. Whether it’s investing in their education, sending them to conferences, or connecting them with a mentor, they are always thinking about how they can help their team reach their full potential.
Servant leaders understand that when their team succeeds, the company succeeds.
Servant leadership is so much more than giving orders and being the boss. It’s about putting your team first, listening to their needs, and helping them grow.
By embodying these nine servant leadership characteristics, you can become a better leader for your team and help your business reach new heights.
Featured photo credit: Mapbox via unsplash.com