Servant Leadership

March 20, 2003

From Kirk Alter of Purdue University and Fast Management,Inc., Director of the PHCC Educational Foundation's Managing PHC Projects Course

As managers and leaders we’ve all been frustrated when tasks we’ve assigned to employees, and thought that we’d explained perfectly, are completed late or improperly. So what’s the problem here and who’s to blame? We have to consider putting the responsibility right back on ourselves.

As managers, we are responsible for making sure that our employees understand what we want and what we expect from them. We have to be aware of what they will need from us to accomplish the tasks we’ve given them. Sound too much like “babysitting?” Well, we have to get over that feeling and recognize that ANYTHING we can do to help our employees do their jobs helps us to achieve our goals. This mindset of “servant leadership” will improve your relations with employees while giving them what they need to produce better results.

Here are a few basic tenets of servant leadership that can help us all:

1) Let your employee know what they are supposed to do – be explicit!

2) Find out if they know how to do it – don’t assume, ask questions to gain confirmation.

3) Let them know why they should do it (it’s not because they’ll lose their job if they don’t). Explain how what you’ve asked them to do will help both the company and them to achieve your mutual and individual goals.

4) Convince them that you’ve thought through what you’ve asked them to do and that your plan is sound.

5) Ask for their input. If their alternative ways of doing the task are better, then modify your plan. If not, explain why not – don’t belittle.

6) Let them know where this task ranks with respect to your and their other work priorities. Remember that sometimes as managers we just keep piling on the tasks and forget that employees sometimes aren’t sure how this task relates to the things we’ve asked them to do.

7) Ask them what other resources they need to get the job done.

8) Verify that the work is not beyond their personal and professional abilities and limits. Remember, many employees are very reluctant to expose their limitations – our job is to know their limitations, and then to help them overcome them.

9) Verify that there are no obstacles beyond their control. We need to anticipate what obstacles they might encounter in getting the task done, and how to overcome those obstacles should they arise.

10) Have them describe what successful completion of this task will look like. Eliminate loose ends by communicating explicitly!

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