Anyone can be a boss. Only some people can inspire others to dream big.
I believe that one of the best ways to inspire your employees is by practicing Servant Leadership and that this style of leadership can help curate more creative and collaborative work cultures.
Servant Leadership is a philosophy where leaders help or "serve" their employees rather than having employees serve the boss. The idea is that when leaders help empower their employees and help them do their jobs well, the whole company will end up performing better.
So, as a leader, how can you utilize servant leadership to curate more creative and collaborative environments?
Communication is key, especially as we enter a world where remote work starts to become the norm. Make sure that you curate regular opportunities to communicate with your team or organization what your company’s goals are moving forward and how their work ties to the bigger picture. Whether it’s creating an email newsletter, an all team meeting, or large company functions, having opportunities to highlight your team’s mission regularly helps keep everyone on the same page and stay focused on the bigger picture.
Listening to Employees
In that same vein, find as many opportunities to listen to your employees as possible. Now, depending on what kind of a team you’re leading, that can mean a lot of different things. If you’re a manager, that could mean having regular scheduled one on ones with your employees to check in on how their work is going and whether they need help with anything or find opportunities for them to grow.
As the leader of a larger organization, this can become a little more challenging since there are simply so many different people to keep track of. So, how do you get over this hurdle?
Create Opportunities for Feedback and Ideas
One way to try to listen to your teammates or employees, especially at a larger organization is to create systems for employees to give feedback or share ideas to the right people. Now, you can create any system you want, whether it’s a monthly or quarterly survey, a specific email address or page on an internal company website, or even an app that all employees have access to.
Ray Dalio, the CEO of Bridgewater, did just that when his team created their internal Dot Collector app that allows employees to give everyone their feedback publicly all of the time.
Now, Bridgewater’s model, I hate to admit, gives me a bit of a Big Brother vibe. Though I admire their company’s commitment to total transparency, I’m still not quite comfortable with all of that just yet.
However, what I do love is that they have built a way for all employees to communicate to others regularly in an effective way. So many leaders at organization assume that good ideas always come to the top but underestimate the power of younger employees who may not know how to navigate traditional systems to get their ideas to the people who can impact change.
By creating ways for all employees to regularly share their feedback or ideas and actually acting on the feedback from those systems, employees are much more likely to participate.
Help Your Employees Do Their Jobs Better
Now that you’ve communicated your goals and messages to your team or organization and you’ve listened to their critiques or ideas on how to improve the organization, it’s time to act. Find the areas where you believe the company needs to improve and start working with your team on ways to improve them. Too often, problems that arise within organizations are because of complicated processes or “rules” that aren’t actually that important, it’s just the way tasks have always been done.
For example, in my last job, we had over 15 steps to onboard new employees primarily because we had been requested over the years to take all of these additional steps and use several different types of software that our executives were familiar with. However, the majority of this task became a lot of unnecessary data entry work that was time consuming and took away from other parts of my job. Once we were able to narrow down what was actually important when onboarding new hires we cut the amount of time it took to onboard new hires by half and were able to enable me to focus on more important matters.
Another larger scale example. Years ago I worked for an enormous ad agency in New York but our CEO was based in London. The only time I ever saw him was when he came to visit to give us a talk about the goals for the agency worldwide moving forward. During his talk his team had set up an anonymous texting app where employees could ask him questions. One of the questions listed, “Why do we have such terrible maternity/paternity leave policy?” left him stunned. I distinctly remember him saying, “We do? I thought we had the best one available. I’ll absolutely fix that right away.” A month or so later, a much more generous policy was announced.
I remembered thinking how he couldn’t have known that we were disappointed by that particular policy, it was one of the policies that my colleagues complained and worried about frequently, but it was also something that we figured would likely never change until a new leader who cared about those issues was brought on board. Luckily, that anonymous texting moment happened and a change was made, but I often wondered had there been a system that all employees knew about where they could let their voices be heard all the time, perhaps a change would have happened sooner.
Internal Training and Promotions
Another way that leaders can serve their employees is by creating opportunities to help employees learn and grow with the organization. Many leaders feel wary about training their employees to learn new skills due to a fear that they may take those skills and go work somewhere else. My argument is that by not providing training or opportunities or growth at all, you’re encouraging your employees to leave for better pastures sooner rather than later.
Plus, most employees want to stay at their current organizations. A recent study by Zapier showed that most Millennials and Gen Z’ers want to stay at their organizations for 5 or 10+ years and consider their jobs to be a part of their identity.
Encourage them to stay by encouraging them to grow instead of leaving to find that same growth. By listening to what your employees want to learn and helping them reach their goals, you’re more likely to create more positive relationships.
Challenge Employees to Dream Bigger
Finally, once you’ve clearly communicated your companies goals with your employees, listened to their concerns, critiques and ideas, created a space or system for them to continue to share their thoughts as your organization grows, acted on those ideas and critiques to help your employees do their jobs better and created opportunities for your employees to grow and elevate them up, it’s time to challenge your employees to dream bigger.
The myth that Millennials and Gen Z’ers are "entitled" and believe that they can do better than their superiors is only a little bit true. Many young people have bigger dreams than their predecessors simply because we have access to more information than all generations before us. But in reality, most of your younger employees only have a narrow view of how they can grow and participate on your team or organization because of restraints that they put on themselves.
When I was in high school and college, I was convinced that my only path moving forward was to get a job in the arts because I didn’t have the best grades because I had difficulty with memorization and test taking. It wasn’t until I had a groundbreaking meeting with a mentor of mine a couple of years ago when I asked for help getting an entry level sales job that I needed to dream bigger.
I had just started working as an administrative assistant when he told me that my work ethic, personality, and strong relationships with others were proof that I was not only capable of doing more, but that I needed to reevaluate what I thought of myself and who I could become. I went home with my head buzzing with ideas and I went back to him a week later with two different company ideas and a card game I made up the weekend before. He said, “Now we’re talking!”
Now, as a manager, team leader, or leader of an organization, you aren’t necessarily responsible for changing the world views of someones life overnight. That’s a lot to take in and isn’t super realistic. However, giving your employees the encouragement and nudges to try something new or gifting them with ideas that they may not have considered before can be hugely beneficial for them and potentially your organization assuming they continue to grow with you.
The best leaders don’t just boss their employees around. Instead, they empower their employees, teammates, and others to grow to become the best that they can be. By utilizing these strategies, you can encourage your employees to become their best selves, work smarter rather than harder, and ensure that the best ideas within the company are making it to the decision makers who can help make them happen.