Who’s the boss? Why strong leaders are ‘servants’

The best way to get your team to have your back is to win their hearts and minds. The road to that for leaders is to ‘Serve.’

The primary role of a leader is “servant leadership.” It means the leader exists to serve those under him. In contrast, traditional leadership is a top-down pyramid where the leader sits at the top, and subordinates do as the leader commands. Servant leaders turn that pyramid upside down by sharing power with their teams, placing the needs of their team before their own, and helping subordinates develop and grow so they can perform at the highest level possible.

Here are seven things that servant leaders DO NOT do:

  • They don’t play the ‘I am the boss’ card
  • They do not say ‘Do it my way’
  • They have no visible ‘favorites’
  • They do not get into frontal conflicts
  • They do not create silos and fiefdoms
  • They do not pretend that ‘their door is always open’ yet they are inaccessible
  • They do not talk out of both sides of their mouths – their word matters

Above all, walk the talk; servant leaders make sure their own actions are consistent with what they expect from others.

If you say it, mean it

Too many senior executives say things they don’t really mean. What they often don’t realize is that their subordinates and colleagues notice. As a result, they lose credibility. The last thing an executive should want to lose is credibility and the trust of the team.

A common one we all hear is, “My door is always open.” The reality is that it’s not always open. In fact, the door is shut half the time, and it takes weeks to get any face time. The statement is objectively false, both literally and figuratively.

The recent flutter of stories and press coverage have focused on what Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook did not do once the Cambridge Analytics information came to light. Anyone could talk a big game, but true leaders follow through on their promises and commitments with their actions. Mark has faced the privacy of data question; and the consumer protection question; for as long as Facebook has existed.

Over the recent years, his assurances have been more forthright. Words aside did Mark act sufficiently one should ask over this recent debacle? Did he do everything he could to live up to the promises he made to you and I, with his actions, no matter what? When leaders are faced with a crisis, the authenticity of their leadership always becomes transparent. If words of the past have been superficial — in the face of great adversity or in dark moments that come to haunt.

Overcoming fear of failure

I have seen corporate executives become crippled by fear of failure. When they face a big obstacle or a tenacious competitor, all they can think about is, “What if I lose? Will I still have a job?” They become so worried about losing that they can’t focus on what they should be doing — executing. In a sense, they end up defeating themselves.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had those same thoughts and worries. When your entire year comes down to one huge deal or project, it’s human nature to worry. But you must dismiss those thoughts and execute your plan. Some of the most successful companies and individuals are worth billions because they took risks and executed. Without risk, there is no reward.

In times like this, I think of fearful images of curtains of smoke caused by a crash in a Formula One car race. The smoke is so thick that the other drivers can’t see what’s beyond it. That’s terrifying when you’re driving 180 miles per hour. The drivers who win are the ones who trust that everything will be fine on the other side of that smoke — they step on the gas, not the brake. Yes, it’s a risk, but with that risk comes tremendous reward.

Drive fearlessly through the curtain of smoke on life’s racetrack, and victory awaits you!

That sums up my philosophy when it comes to fear in the corporate setting. Step on the gas! Go bigger and bolder. Embrace the risk involved. That’s the way to win. If you take your foot off the accelerator and coast when things get scary, you’ll never win.

It may not seem like it at the time, but failure is not always a terrible thing. Failure helps develop grit. I believe my failures have given me fortitude and courage to go forward. Having experienced failure, I know what it feels like, and I know I can bounce back and get through it. I see all failures as nothing more than temporary setbacks, speedbumps on the road to success. This, in turn, fuels a great team and workplace culture. Rising and falling together comes with life’s great learnings – experiencing that as a team builds great organizations. One that excels!

Vishal Agarwal is the bestselling author of Give to Get. As a Senior Leader, he has navigated corporate life for the past 24 years. He has served as a Top Global Executive for General Electric and as a senior leader at Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC).