Talent

Have Your Leaders Learned These 6 Leadership Lessons?

A recent Gallup poll shows that only 30 percent of Americans are actively engaged at work. According to Gallup’s chairman and CEO, fully 20 percent of American employees are actively disengaged because they have “bosses from hell that make them miserable.” In turn, these employees “roam the halls spreading discontent.”

But wait—there’s good news. According to Matt Tenney, author of Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom (Wiley, May 2014), managers can turn this depressing situation around and create the ultimate win-win. By developing both the aspiration and the ability to more effectively serve and care for the people on their teams, managers can become leaders people actually want to follow.

“When the focus is on serving team members, leaders can create a team culture that people want to be a part of, that produces superior results, and that has a positive impact on society as a whole,” says Tenney. “When this happens, leaders win, too, because they get promoted faster and create the conditions for sustainable, long-term success. Perhaps more important, they actually enjoy going to work each day, and the people on their teams do, too.”

Serve to Be Great also includes case studies, research, and tactics to help leaders make the shift to “servant leadership.”

Servant Leadership

“Servant leadership doesn’t mean that we assume some menial, meek persona; it simply means that our motivation for leading people is to be of service to others,” Tenney explains. “I believe that somewhere inside each of us is the aspiration to devote ourselves to serving others. That said, it can be challenging to effectively serve the people on our teams, even if we want to.


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“When we’re under stress—like the pressure to hit a goal or ‘make the numbers’—we tend to focus more on the short-term and can often sacrifice the relationships that are a foundation of long-term success. With training, you effectively serve team members even when the conditions are challenging.”

Tenney shares these 11 tactics to help leaders achieve higher levels of success by consistently serving and inspiring greatness in others.

1. Focus on developing your influence as a leader. The qualities that make a great leader are quite different from those that make a good employee. An employee’s worth is judged on how well she carries out the different tasks in her job description. But a leader’s worth is judged on how well she is able to influence the behaviors of those on her team. (That’s why Tenney says one of the most common mistakes organizations make is promoting people to leadership positions based on their job performance. Job performance offers little to no insight into whether a person will succeed at leading a team to success!)

“The most effective way to build influence with others is to consistently demonstrate that you truly care about them and have their best interests in mind,” he confirms. “Herb Kelleher, founder and former chairman of Southwest Airlines, is a great example of how great leaders develop influence. He consistently showed employees how much he cared by doing things like coming in on Thanksgiving Day to help baggage handlers load suitcases onto planes.

“When he wrote a letter asking employees to find a way to save $5 a day for the second half of a year, he signed it, ‘Love, Herb.’ Employees knew that he meant it. And, as a result of the influence Herb had built, employees saved much more than $5 a day on average, helping Southwest keep their then 30-year streak of profitability going.”

2. Create a culture of servant leaders. Can you imagine being able to attract the most talented people in your industry, ensure that they’re fully engaged while they’re at work, and feel confident that they’ll stay on your team for the long haul? What would that do for your organization? Clearly, a great workplace culture—which is responsible for all three achievements—is one of the most important competitive advantages you can possess.

“The key to creating a highly effective workplace culture that people want to be a part of,” Tenney asserts, “is to make sure that team members feel cared for and that they’re a part of something meaningful and inspiring. This is accomplished easily when you build a culture of servant leadership. An e-commerce company called Next Jump is a great example of the power of building an organization full of people who are devoted to serving others and serving the greater good.

“The leaders at Next Jump consistently show how much they care,” he shares. “The company actually does the employees’ laundry for them. But they also find ways to help employees grow their ability to serve each other and the greater good. The most coveted award at Next Jump is a $30,000 package that goes to the employee who is voted by his or her peers to be the most helpful, selfless person in the company.

“A culture like the one at Next Jump produces extraordinary results,” Tenney says. “In 2012, the company accepted only 35 new hires out of almost 18,000 applicants. That’s a hire rate of 0.2 percent. And, although turnover in the tech space averages around 22 percent, at Next Jump, it’s less than 1 percent. This is despite the fact that highly talented employees there often receive phone calls from other companies offering two to three times the salary they currently receive.”


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3. Increase innovation by being more compassionate. Most leaders are aware of the importance of innovation, but many make the mistake of assuming that creativity and innovation are synonymous. Creativity, which is the ability to generate novel ideas, is not necessary for innovation. Innovation is a function of sticking with and executing on ideas—whether new or old—that don’t conform to the status quo, which results in turning an idea into something tangible, useful, and differentiated. So if you want innovation, Tenney says, you need to create an environment where people feel safe to take risks and stick with ideas that deviate from the norm.

“We need to listen noncritically to ideas,” he says. “We need to encourage and be forgiving of mistakes. In essence, we need to consistently show people that we truly care about them. SAS CEO Jim Goodnight is a great case study for how compassion fuels innovation. He showed incredible compassion for his people at the onset of the Great Recession by assuring them that no one would lose their job and simply asking that all employees be vigilant with spending.

As a result of his care, they felt safe. They continued to disrupt the market with innovations through the Recession, setting records for revenues, while most companies in the software industry were struggling to stay alive.”

4. Focus on your most important customer. Organizations that deliver world-class customer service have a few things in common. First, they spend very little money acquiring new customers because they’re able to keep the ones they have and because those customers are constantly referring others. Second, they don’t have to compete on price because their customers are willing to pay more for the excellent service they receive. And perhaps most important, their external customers aren’t their number one priority. The members of their organization are.

“The best way to ensure that your customers are consistently well cared for is to treat your team members with the same care you expect them to deliver to the customers,” Tenney explains. “By listening well and treating team members with kindness and respect, leaders develop team members who do the same for customers.

“When leaders focus on developing happy, loyal team members, happy, loyal customers are a natural side effect. A very simple way to put this principle into practice is to frequently communicate with team members about what you as the leader can do to help them be happy both at work and at home. Make an effort to show that all ideas are heard and considered, and try to execute on as many feasible ideas as possible.”

5. Get a better ROI on marketing by serving the community. Push marketing—broadcasting unsolicited messages to large numbers of people—is simply no longer an effective way to reach potential customers. In a world where people consume more information in a few hours than our ancestors did in an entire lifetime, our chances of being heard amid the noise are slim. To stand out from the chaos, Tenney recommends that you make serving the community a priority.

“When organizations develop leaders and team members who really care about others, community service efforts can be really powerful because people tend to talk about and remember them,” he asserts. “In addition to being rewarding (it’s simply the right thing to do!), serving the community is a very powerful way to build trust and rapport with potential customers.

“For instance, did you know that the apparel company Life is good® has yet to spend a dime on traditional advertising?” he asks. “Years ago, they hosted a festival to raise money for youth going through challenging times. Afterward, the company realized that the media and word-of-mouth exposure was more valuable than the ad campaigns they had been considering. Up to that point, their growth curve had been pretty flat. Since then, it’s been almost vertical.”

6. Stop fixating on providing perks and pay more attention to the little things. In Serve to Be Great, Tenney offers several examples of companies that go to great lengths to show employees how much they care by offering incredible perks. But perks alone don’t result in a team culture that people want to be a part of.

“The perks aren’t necessary,” Tenney says. “Perks are easily copied and can been seen as a façade. What’s most important is to consistently show team members that you truly care about them—and believe it or not, that doesn’t take a lot of money or effort.

Little things like making time for personal interaction, asking more questions, listening more, and showing sincere appreciation for a person’s efforts can go a long way. Honestly, we leaders need to carve out time for personal interaction; actually put it on our calendars. If we don’t, we might find that we’ve gone days, or even weeks, without connecting personally with team members.”

Matt Tenney is the author of Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, aMonastery, and a Boardroom. He is also an international keynote speaker, a trainer, and a consultant with the prestigious Perth Leadership Institute, whose clients include numerous Fortune 500 companies.

For more information, visit www.matttenney.com.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll go over the next 5 leadership lessons, and we’ll explore a dynamic online library of 20 interactive courses on key leadership topics.