The old myth about leaders knowing all the answers is debunked when servant leaders interact with those who handle the daily routine. Instead of making statements, the wise leader will begin with a series of open-ended questions to get everyone talking. The emphasis is to allow everyone in the room to share perspective without any filters.
As the interaction develops the leaders takes on a lesser role that allows others to speak freely. If the conversation wanes, the leader is ready with a probing question about the current subject. This focused approach removes the formality that would prevent a free exchange. Listening quietly encourages everyone to participate and forget that the leader is present.
Servant Leaders Will Not Seek Control
In contrast to command and control, the servant leader seeks to understand people and situations through a series of open-ended questions. The objective is to engage in conversation that exposes an accurate description of:
🗪 Current Problems –
🗪 Recent Successes –
🗪 Actions for Improvement –
When surprises arise in conversation, the servant leader quietly records those tidbits for the future. With care, the tidbits offered casually become answers in the context of team life. Additional questions will clarify the meaning of any statements that seem disconnected from the major points.
Servant leadership includes staying close enough to the routine without ever taking over the duties assigned to others. Even when team members ask questions, the answers provided are designed to provoke thought and train individuals to do some research. The servant leader offers assistance by moving future obstacles that will be encountered without careful intervention.
Most of what the servant leader gleans from conversations is not expressed in meetings with individuals or groups. Use of the insights will be transformed into larger concepts that guide business decisions in a broader scope. Quiet wisdom is one of the most useful tools available when some patience and persistence is applied.
For example: If someone mentions the need for a specific tool, the servant leader
will listen closely and make a note after leaving the meeting.
Another individual will be asked to investigate and report back
with some supporting information. More tools are evaluated and
the team is given the choice of which tool to purchase to fill the need.
Servant leaders seek to introduce larger solutions based on the detailed perspective of the people who support the business each day. Quick answers are avoided since the best decisions are supported by research and information gathering efforts.
Set the Example for Fact Finding
New leaders can be inspiring to the team that is existing on cruise control instead of embracing every opportunity. Asking a lot of questions of everyone who crosses our paths is one method for getting everyone on board. Maybe those questions start out simple and develop over time, but the conversations that result will provide helpful insight.
Waiting to take action is very challenging when leaders believe danger lurks around every corner. Before taking that first step toward solving a perceived issue, the best approach is to start asking good questions. To become involved without interrupting, the subtle approach includes grabbing a chair and sitting at the edge of the action.
Even in the remote workplace, the observation of meetings and work sessions reveals more information for decisions that affect everyone. A few minutes spent reading through conversations on the team channels will avoid misunderstandings. Context is everything when assessing the challenges of today and tomorrow. Long before issues arise, leaders gather information in every setting and from as many people as possible. Future decisions are easier to make when the data has context from systems and people.
Reactions can be avoided when we stay involved and avoid the habit of filling every day with meetings, most of which are unnecessary. Many decisions can be made without creating a committee to spread the responsibility and avoid accountability. Involvement with the team will enhance professional relationships and promote understanding even when difficult decisions must be made.
Knowing Someone Starts with Interest
Great people are part of every workplace, and the servant leader is quick to recognize the value of every person. With some interaction, the roles are not as important as getting to know the people from many different angles. We want to find common ground with those who spend most of the week with us.
Questions asked of each person in a variety of meetings and interactions will reveal important factors before any crisis can arise. When fast decisions must be made, the leader has already created memories with the people who have the skills to handle any crisis. There are many opportunities to set aside ‘position’ and relate to each other as equals. More details will be shared over lunch or in a casual chat than formal settings.
Listening is the most important attribute of the effective servant leader. Without asking direct questions, conversations can be endless sources of helpful information. People enjoy talking about themselves, and the insight shared offers tidbits that can be helpful in the future.
Maybe we won’t get to use every factoid we hear, but at least we will know who to ask when we need help with finding great solutions. As leaders, curiosity is helpful when we set aside our titles and enjoy the people around us all day. Great insight can be gathered in places where we least expect.
Hallway conversations, informal meetings and impromptu chats open access to everyone to be involved. As teams have dispersed to remote locations, the same outcome is possible when people gather in a ‘room’ and have a fun discussion. Great solutions have come out of a seemingly casual chat that turned into a research session.
Common goals bring people from the most diverse backgrounds together with all of their experiences working in harmony. As leaders, we can stealthy create an environment where people feel comfortable with everyone, regardless of position. Open access to those who can bring more resources to our solutions is the key to great achievements.
Stats Never Tell the Whole Story
With the broad use of websites and software, the number of statistics available to observe the business operation is beyond measure. Every aspect of a process can be monitored.
Once the KPIs are chosen, the statistics can be accessed from multiple sources. The danger is to notice one or two numbers and start making decisions. The servant leader will pause before pulling one number out of the air.
Wise servant leaders investigate any anomaly before making adjustments or looking for someone to blame for the numbers on a report. This approach sets an example within the organization to prevent unnecessary stress on those doing the work.
Statistics can be manipulated by calculating each on from a different set of data. Anyone who takes this approach is literally putting a piece of tape on a leaking pipe. The water will still gush forth around the edges of the tape.
Our role as leaders includes examining the situation carefully while speaking with the people involved. There are reasons for stats to appear ‘out of line.’ Without asking more questions, the wrong decisions will be made in an attempt to stopping the perceived damage.
Trust grows when we ask valid questions whenever we see a state that should raise concern. The key is to stay neutral until we know the factors surrounding the report that contains a few disconnected numbers.
Next Steps Matter for Servant Leaders
In all that leaders do each day, the same question arises. What do I do next? Timing is so important when addressing what might seem like a crisis. Before the challenges arise, the servant leader will prepare by interacting with the team and asking more questions. Our ability to set aside our assumptions is so important. Action follows sufficient investigation about the resources available to solve any given problem and move obstacles for the team.
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal
from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
~ Ernest Hemingway