Published by The Nashville Business Journal
Early in my career, one of my mentors took me to task about recognizing the difference between activity and accomplishment. I was often working hard and fast but simultaneously falling short of my goals. He coached me to stand back and evaluate my actual business achievements. My career took a swift positive turn once I made up my mind to measure myself by accomplishment, not activity.
It did not take me long to realize that being a good servant leader could do wonders for the productivity of my team. My focus shifted to assuring that my people had all the tools, processes and support to achieve maximum results. Life as a leader got better as I became a better servant leader.
It is important for us to realize that it is not individual performance that produces optimum results. It is team accomplishment that is the overarching measure of success. Leaders should be focused on bottom line results (accomplishments), not how many hours we work or how hard we work. When your team is successful, you are successful.
Team productivity starts with the leader getting involved in planning, allocating resources, delegating, measuring, and rewarding, so get out from behind your desk and go where the action is. There is a mountain of truth in the old adage that “the people closest to the work know the most about it.” If your people have clear direction, solid processes, and the right tools and equipment, they will most likely produce the results you are striving to achieve. If your people are frustrated by the lack of any of these, the productivity of your team will suffer. Your support is essential. When all is working well a few “pats on the back” can only add to the momentum you have built.
Good servant leaders are approachable. Good servant leaders are great listeners. When you hear criticism the only response is “thank you.” It is difficult to listen to criticism particularly when it is directed at your plans and initiatives but that criticism is the most important feedback you will receive. If you are defensive and argue with people’s perceptions, or “shoot the messenger”, you will likely shut off the feedback for good. A servant leader’s role is to listen, support and knock down the obstacles so your people can perform.
Aside from your personal involvement, there are many other listening mechanisms that will help those on the front lines achieve more. A discipline of returning phone calls quickly not only sets a good example, it encourages constructive feedback. Practicing the “open door” policy promotes communication. I am an advocate of advisory boards that are empowered to “leave no stone unturned” in the quest to improve processes and reduce waste. Celebration of team initiated improvements will further promote employee participation in the process to achieve more.
I spent most of my retail career in stores, distribution centers and walking around our offices listening and talking. I know that the very best ideas for new products came from our salespeople who were listening to our customers. Ditto for new processes for getting the work done in stores, distribution centers and in the offices. Open communication is the key to building solid long term teamwork.
Encouraging better ideas from your team is a winning recipe. Your people will perform more effectively and they will respect and admire you for your support and encouragement. The best executives are true servant leaders.