3 Actions Every Leader Can Take to Serve Their People

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about servant leadership. I was recently reviewing Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert’s book, The Serving Leader (Berrett-Koehler, 2003 and 2016) when I realized how much I like the term serving leader—it makes the point that leadership is about doing something, it’s not just a philosophy. When you are serving, you are taking action.

In my recent work on servant leadership, I’ve been focusing in on three actions every leader can take to serve their people more efficiently.

The first action is about Presence. Be present when you’re with your people. Focus directly on them—not on the next meeting, or the call you need to make, or the text message that just came in on your phone. Don’t let distractions take you away from a living person who is right in front of you. As a serving leader, you need to listen with the intent to learn, ask questions for clarity, and offer the support and direction your staff needs to be able to perform at their highest level. Each person has very different needs, and as a serving leader it takes your concentration and attention to be truly present with each individual. In this 24/7 world, this skill takes practice and commitment.

The second action is Acceptance. Serving leaders look for and build on the strengths each direct report brings to the job. And, realizing no one is perfect, they also identify weaknesses—areas where they might be able to help the person learn and grow. Helping someone develop new skills is perhaps the ultimate act of serving. Accepting people as they are and paying attention to both strengths and weaknesses allows serving leaders to set team members up for success, which serves not only the individual but also the entire organization.

The third action is Creativity. Leaders work with teams made up of many different personalities and temperaments—and when you add the complexity of multiple generations in the workplace, the job of managing people can seem overwhelming. Some may see this as a challenge to be managed carefully, but the serving leader sees it as a chance to be creative and invite different perspectives to each project. Magical things can happen when different voices and opinions are shared in a trusting, collaborative environment. It brings about something I call one plus one thinking—where one plus one is actually greater than two. The job of the serving leader is to build a community where everyone feels they are part of the big picture.

I hope you think of yourself as a servant leader—but take it a step further and make sure you are taking the right actions to actively serve your people. Be present and focus on each person individually, accept people’s strengths and help them overcome weaknesses, and encourage creativity by inviting everyone to share their perspective. I guarantee that you’ll unleash talent and potential that will transform your direct reports, your team, and your organization.

PS:  Interested in learning more about servant leadership?  Join us for the Servant Leadership in Action Livecast on February 28.  The event is free courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers and The Ken Blanchard Companies.  Twenty different authors, CEOs, and thought leaders will be sharing how servant leadership concepts work in their organizations.  You can learn more here!

Five Keys to Great Customer Service

Legendary Service Book CoverThink of a time when you experienced really excellent service. Now compare that to a time when the service you received was just acceptable—okay, but nothing special. Which organization do you want to do business with again? I’ll bet it’s the one where someone made you feel valued and cared for—someone who understood the true importance of Legendary Service.

That’s the central message of my latest book, Legendary Service: The Key Is to Care. It’s a story that I think will change the way people look at service. I wrote it with my colleagues Kathy Cuff and Vicki Halsey, two experts on customer service. As coauthors of our Legendary Service customer service training program, Kathy and Vicki have spent years teaching the concepts of Legendary Service to clients in every industry.

What we know from working with companies of all sizes is that most organizations recognize the necessity of offering great customer service, but few really get it right. They zero in on specific tactics or trendy catchphrases, or they provide training to just a small number of people in customer service roles. They don’t understand that the best companies work to create a true service culture—where taking care of customers is everyone’s responsibility, not just the job of the people in the customer service department. These companies look at service from three equally important perspectives:

  1. Frontline service providers, who play a critical role because they are the ones who have direct contact with the customer.
  2. Managers, who not only empower their frontline people to provide exemplary service, but also act as role models for both internal and external service excellence.
  3. Senior leaders, who fully embrace the service initiative and communicate desired behaviors to the entire organization. Their goal is to create an environment where associates feel that they are valued internal customers of the organization so that they, in turn, want to take care of external customers and make them feel valued.

Legendary Service is really an inside-out issue—in two ways. At an organizational level, creating loyal external customers begins by taking care of your internal customers—your people.  At a personal level, providing great service begins when you realize that, as an individual, you have control over the service experience each of your customers receives. You can create a loyal customer by the service you provide.

To get at this dual focus, we use a model we call ICARE. We believe that there are five steps to becoming a Legendary Service provider:

  • Ideal Service: Meet the customer’s needs on a day-to-day basis by acting on the belief that service is important
  • Culture of Service: Foster an environment that focuses on serving the customer
  • Attentiveness: Know your customers and their preferences
  • Responsiveness: Demonstrate a genuine willingness to serve others as you fulfill their individual needs
  • Empowerment: Take the initiative to implement the service vision

We’ve found that the lessons of this simple model, when applied, will have a profound impact on the service experience your customers—both internal and external—will receive.

You can find out more by joining my coauthor Kathy Cuff on April 16 for a free webinar called Creating A Customer Focused Organization, where she will be sharing some of the book’s key concepts. We have also created a special web page where you can take an online quiz about your company’s service mentality and read an excerpt from the book. I hope you’ll check out both of these resources and discover the value of creating a Legendary Service culture in your organization.