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3 Skills To Develop As A Servant Leader

“Who would like to be a servant leader?”

All the hands would go up when I would ask this in a presentation.

“Who has a plan for becoming one?” I’d ask next.

All the hands would go down.

Intentions are good, but they have to be coupled with action. That’s what I’ve always loved about our SLII® leadership model.  With its emphasis on bringing out the magnificence in people, SLII® helps leaders develop the skill set required to put servant leadership into action.

SLII® has three skills for turning servant leadership intentions into servant leadership behaviors: goal setting, diagnosis, and matching.

Setting Clear Goals

All good performance begins with clear goals. It is up to the leader to ensure every team member fully understands each of their goals. If people don’t know what they’re supposed to be accomplishing, they’re never going to get there. You need to take the time to get agreement on what good performance looks like.

In our SLII® model, goal setting is a collaborative process of sitting down together; reviewing team, department, and organizational objectives; and then identifying the individual goals each team member will be responsible for.

At this stage a leader says to their team, “Here are the goals our team needs to accomplish. What do you all think? How can we work together on this to make it happen?”

With SLII®, we focus on creating specific, trackable goals. This is where we have a one-on-one conversation with someone, for example: “Now that we know what our department or team goals are, let’s talk about yours.” That’s something you do together.

That’s bringing a servant’s heart into the equation.

Diagnosing Development Level

We put special emphasis on goals being specific and trackable since we use that information for the next phase of collaborative goal setting—diagnosis.

Now that we’re clear on what an individual’s goals are, let’s look at each of the goals and find out two things: what is the person’s development level on this goal? And what kind of leadership style (in terms of the amount of direction and support) do they need? Remember: people are at different development levels for different goals.

The diagnosis stage involves the manager and team member working side by side to identify the direct report’s development level—competence and commitment—on each goal. Together, they determine the appropriate leadership style that matches that development level. In this way, the leader helps the team member move through the four stages of development to accomplish each of their goals.

Too often, managers set goals, skip over diagnosis of development level, provide little day-to-day coaching, and then focus in with great attention, later in the quarter—or worse, later in the year—to evaluate performance.

This experience hits home with many people once they learn the SLII® model and the importance of matching leadership styles to the needs of team members. They recognize that in their organizations, people are often out there all by themselves trying to figure out what to do. Their managers aren’t really helping them.

When beginning to work toward a new goal, most people need high levels of direction and support. The SLII® model gives managers a way to determine who needs high direction and high support for certain goals and who will be successful with lower levels of direction and support for specific goals. Providing a match accomplishes the best result and avoids both under-supervising and micromanaging.

Providing a Matching Leadership Style

Providing a matching leadership style will sometimes require a leader to get outside of their comfort zone. You can’t pick one style and use it all the time on everyone just because it’s the most comfortable for you. You must match each person’s development level with the right amount of direction and support for the specific goal they are working on.

For people who are new to a task, you will have to set aside extra time to provide direction and to follow up on a regular basis. For people who seem to be struggling with a task, you’ll need to provide both direction and support.

Life becomes a little easier as people begin to demonstrate competence and commitment on a task. Now you can ease back on the direction and play more of a coaching role.

You might also enlist team members who excel at certain tasks to help others who are less experienced with those tasks. Often times leaders think they need to know it all themselves—but of course, they don’t. If you have a person who is good in a particular area, consider asking them if they’ll help another person who’s not so good in that area. In this way, you create the type of environment where people help each other succeed. If it’s not an area of strength for you, who on your team has strength in that area?

Turning Mindset into Skill Set

Using the three SLII® skills of goal setting, diagnosing, and matching is a great way to turn your servant leader mindset into a positive skill set that provides direction and support to help people succeed.

We all know top-down leadership is a thing of the past. Leadership isn’t something you do to people; it’s something you do with people. Servant leaders have the mindset and the SLII®-based skill set necessary to work side by side with their team members. Servant leadership is the best way I know to achieve both great relationships and great results—and as a servant leader, using an SLII® skill set will take you there every step of the way. 

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