At the Servant Leadership Institute, we help leaders around the country change their leadership beliefs from the control model to the service model. All leaders have a common desire: to engage their employees at the highest level possible. Most realize that how they are leading today needs to change.
We have all been in meetings where those in attendance have lost interest in what the leader is saying. It took me some time to understand when people were looking down at their papers, playing with their pens and doing everything to avoid eye contact, it was my own behaviors that drove their response.
Why is it so hard to connect with those whom we spend most of the day? As leaders, how do we develop a culture where people are encouraged to participate and give feedback to their leader — and the leader cares about them enough to actually listen to understand?
Here are some of my thoughts and experiences on how we can engage employees today.
Do you inspire your employees?
People don’t feel inspired by their leaders. Leaders today do not live the company values through their behaviors. Leadership behavior, in the most part, has been driven by the command-and-control leadership model.
People want their leaders to care about them, not just say they care. Leaders inspire others through their behavior more than anything they might say. Part of that behavior is painting an inspirational picture for employees — one that shows them how their work impacts the world. Be a storyteller, reminding employees all the things they have accomplished.
Do you invest time in your employees?
People don’t feel their leaders really invest in them. Leaders today don’t feel they need to meet people where they are. Most leaders don’t know what this means. I love to ask leaders if they invest their time in their employees. Most will respond with that worn-out saying, “My door is always open.” I ask them to tear the door off its hinges and show me their calendar. When I see employees scheduled in a leader’s calendar on a regular basis, I know the leader really cares. We all should schedule regular one-to-one meetings with those who report directly to us.
Do you trust your employees?
People don’t feel leaders trust them. Trust is the basic item needed in any relationship. If leaders don’t extend trust, how can they expect trust in return? There is both a social and economic driver in trust. Leaders need to understand both.
In our manufacturing company, we measure trust every six months through a trust index. Leaders can’t build trust in their organizations until they trust themselves and trust the other leaders in the company. Leaders don’t believe the trust issue is with them, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Do you model the company values, mission and purpose?
People notice when leaders’ behaviors do not support their words. “Walk the talk” is another worn-out this phrase. We need to change it to “Behave the talk.” Leaders cannot inspire and equip others through their talk, only through their behaviors. Leaders need to change their own behavior first before they can expect a change in their organizations and people.
In today’s world, people are looking to follow a leader who is serious about values and a higher purpose for the organization. They will follow leaders who behave their values, purpose and mission. Do people in your organization see you behave in accordance with all three of these?
In the end, our role as leaders is to inspire and equip those we influence. People are disengaged today due to their leaders’ behaviors. Leaders need to change their own behavior before they can set expectations for people in their organizations to change. It took me almost 30 years to realize this. Our organizations started to grow and perform after I changed my own behaviors and invested time in our people. Serving them has been the most rewarding journey of my leadership career.
Start your journey today; you won’t regret it.
Art Barter is CEO of Datron World Communications Inc., a company he grew from $10 million to $200 million in sales by putting into practice of servant leadership. He also is CEO of Servant Leadership Institute, an organization that helps people and organizations put servant leadership into practice. His latest book is "The Servant Leadership Journal."