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Success and the servant leader

Many Colorado companies have their fair share of great business models and leadership teams.  Others, not so much. So why do some companies crush it on a daily basis while other struggle?  One important key: the leadership of a “servant leader." The concept of the servant leader is among the top reasons companies thrive over a long period of time.  

Servant leaders endeavor to serve, support and empower the company through their employees. The focus is on promotion of performance and employee satisfaction.

Alternatively, the “my way or the highway” or “manage through intimidation” methods may deliver short-term results, but they aren't sustainable in today’s environments. Instead of engaging workers, these methods create conditioned robots working on autopilot until they can find something better.   Challenge what “strong leadership” means and decide for yourself.  Sometimes strong leadership is defined in terms that work best for the individual, not the company.

Here are some effective leadership qualities:

Servant leaders have two ears and one mouth. They listen, observe and empower those around them to collaborate and share ideas in a penalty free environment. They set the tone for interaction and let those around them contribute ideas.  This doesn’t mean allowing everyone to work from home.  It means engaging the team for the greater good.  Be careful not to confuse quiet with weak.  I would argue the opposite.

Servant leaders surround themselves with people smarter than they are.  This concept can be uncomfortable if a leader always has to be right at the expense of others.  You know those leaders – the ones that can’t wait for you to finish your points so they can share their omnipotence.

Servant leaders mange to outcomes, not people. These types of leaders have a particular goal in mind.  They communicate the vision, expectations and resources needed to empower their employees to solve the goal themselves without micromanaging.  Particularly, the younger workers want to know the “why” just as much as the “what and how."  They want their work and contributions to be meaningful. This requires the servant leaders to take the time from their busy schedule to communicate directly. You hired them to solve issues and create value – so let them.

Servant leaders are self-aware.  Much like a Level 5 leader in Jim Collins book Good to Great, the self-aware leader is keenly attuned to their observable behaviors and their impact on  the team and company.  They understand their strengths and weaknesses and look for ways to complement both. These leaders embody the “paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will."

Servant leaders are engaged.  They care about what’s going on.  You see them in the office walking around, asking questions, calling people by their first name and being accessible.  They want to learn how they can better empower their employees to improve company performance.  If you are an absent leader, it is the same as telling your employees that you don’t care and they shouldn’t either.

Servant leaders admit when they are wrong.  Let’s face it – when you are wrong, everyone knows it.  It doesn’t do any good to keep arguing over irrelevant points.  These leaders admit their mistakes and move on, which gives them credibility and creates trust within the team.

The servant leader leads not by fear, intimidation and coercion but by enabling those around them to be great.  I am excited to see more of these types of leaders in Colorado companies who truly let their employees utilize their best talents. This requires more than just declaring yourself a servant leader. You need to believe in it, live it and consistently apply these concepts. Actions, not words, will make the difference between being successful and just getting by.

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Dan King

Dan King is a financial operations leader with significant experience in venture capital and private equity-backed technology companies in software, SaaS, Cloud and ecommerce business models. He began his career as a CPA with KPMG in the Silicon Valley and is active throughout the Colorado technology and small business community.  Dan can be reached at djk235@hotmail.com

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