All that the world has gone through over the past 20 months has given many of us a new perspective. It has given us permission to slow down. It has shown us that compassion for co-workers, neighbors, family members, and the other people in our lives is paramount. And it has made clear that leading with our hearts in order to care for one another is needed more than ever.
After all, our hearts all beat in the same way. When we open ourselves to that fact, we’ll find opportunities to connect with other people in ways that will fuel our souls.
Leading with heart allows me to have deeper relationships with clients, for example, and especially with my team. Everyone in my workplace cares about what each of us carries in our lives and supports one another with those burdens. We give one another grace and know that it will be reciprocated in the future.
When it comes down to it, leading with heart involves being a servant leader.
The Benefits of Servant Leadership
So what does servant leadership mean (if you don’t already know the definition)?
Robert K. Greenleaf, founder of the servant leadership movement, wrote: “The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead … The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types … The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
Serving others’ needs is one of the key servant leadership principles. And no one person’s needs are more important than another’s — but each individual’s needs are more important than an organization as a whole. What’s more, identifying potential in others, coaching them through barriers, and then watching them shine in new ways is a big part of servant leadership.
Yes, businesses need revenue to keep the lights on and pay their employees, but that doesn’t mean we have to be ruthless in business. The power of a servant leadership mindset actually helps businesses thrive because it puts people first. It certainly works at our company.
I see team members go above and beyond because they feel that our company is home. They feel loved and are inspired by what we do. I also have clients who come back to us or think of us when they come across others who might be right for our company to serve. When we lead with service — by acting authentically and staying true to our hearts — things fall into place as they should.
Key Servant Leadership Principles
We all can be servant leaders in many parts of our lives (and not just at work, though that’s a great place to start). Doing so deepens our relationship with others and renews our purpose. Leading with heart as a servant begins with these traits:
There is so much power in how we listen. It’s an opportunity to hold space for the person speaking, get in touch with our inner voice, and seek to understand what the person’s mind, body, and spirit are communicating.
For example, each of our clients has a unique journey with us, whether that’s writing a book or uncovering new language on how to share their story with the world. We listen to who they are and understand where they want to go. Then, we create a plan on how we can support them in achieving their goals. In turn, our team feels inspired to support clients who are not only aligned with our core values, but also want to make a difference in the world in the service of others.
Everyone needs to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirit. Therefore, we should assume that the people in our lives have good intentions, and we should accept who they are during each moment of interaction. With listening and empathy, we invite a new awareness within ourselves. I usually can tell when something isn’t right or someone is struggling because I open the door to see those signs.
This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. When we had clients who were struggling financially at the height of the pandemic, we gifted our time to them so they could continue making progress on their projects. And I often tell clients who I feel are meant to be part of our company’s family that we can work within the budget that’s comfortable for them. We might have to go at a slower pace, but we will do what we can to help them reach their goals.
Ever see the movie “Pay It Forward?” Servant leadership creates that kind of ripple effect. When we care for, hear, and support one another with intention, we are banded together in new ways.
In times of celebration and times of pain, we show our clients we’re thinking of them and loving them with gifts. Even a simple card or a phone call with a caring message can touch someone’s heart in those tender moments of life and show that they have a supportive community around them. We do the same internally, celebrating joyful moments and supporting one another when we need that extra love.
It makes my heart sad to see the negativity so many of us have experienced over the past 20 months. When we choose to lead with heart and embrace the power of servant leadership, we can build connections based on love and selflessness. Our businesses — and especially our lives — will be all the better for it.
For help unlocking your servant heart and seeing yourself as the hero of your leadership journey, register for The Story Hero: A Storytelling Course.