If you’re a regular on this blog, you know I often refer to my mentors.
But only recently did it occur to me that I should explain what made such an impact on me. And the answer is easy: all knew how to adopt a servant leadership mindset.
One of my first mentors was a wise Indian woman. She came across as sharp but with utmost respect for others and their values. At the same time, she was a tough cookie: leading a hard conversation or facing personal attacks was part of her day to day.
No matter the magnitude of the battle, she’d never let go of her sense of service. And kept empowering her teams to do bigger things.
My mentor had a deep servant leadership mindset. Here’s what I learned from her.
A servant leadership mindset is to lead with others in mind
A one-on-one with my mentor always followed the same ritual: go for coffee (or ice-cream or anything we would fancy), sit, observe life around.
Then she would have a sip of tea, look at me straight in the eye and ask:
“So my dear, how are you?”
And she would listen. Until I would eventually speak about my challenges, pretending it didn’t really matter because “we had so much to discuss business-wise”.
She would always answer:
“Oh yes it matters my dear. It does matter so much we are having a full conversation about that. Right now.”
To date, it remains one of the biggest lessons she taught me. When you adopt a servant leadership mindset and its principles, get clear about the agenda: it is not always about the task. Sometimes, it’s to help people be a fit for it.
Sort out the confidence issue, clear out the confusion, help them embrace a positive perspective. And trust you just did enough for your team to be empowered to act.
Sell, don’t tell
How often do you expect a conversation to be “difficult”?
Another great thing my first mentor inspired me to do was to approach conversations as a sale. Not a battle I had to win.
“You need to choose your battles my dear. For some, you’ll have to understand that a transaction will do.”
It took me quite a bit of time to understand she was teaching me about influence: one of the key duties to lead with confidence.
But as you adopt a servant leadership mindset, you gain a lot by switching to convince and convert. First, you leave others in control of their ultimate decisions. Second, you role model a way to settle differences using constructive conversations. The byproduct of it all? Building trust with others.
A servant leader makes you feel good about yourself
When was the last time a direct report came to you and said: “I messed up and I need you to help me fix it?”
That’s exactly what I could do (and did several times).
Don’t get me wrong: you would surely learn your lesson! But she never, ever made you feel smaller. You’d always leave the conversation confident you could very well resolve your issue and face the next one.
That’s how powerful work relations can be when you adopt a servant leadership mindset!
That’s an important lesson. When you feel good about yourself, you get over failure way faster than normal. You feel safe to try and empowered to do more.
And when you become the one others turn to when they make a mistake, you know you can challenge actions. You can help with inappropriate behaviour. You can go through a difficult report line by line.
But you know, too, that the ultimate intention is to leave the person confident in her abilities.
A word on humility
My mentor had a senior role in the company. Yet, she would adopt a servant leadership mindset the minute you entered her field of awareness. She would speak her truth in the same exact way whether you were a summer intern or the boss of the division. She would exhibit the same modest attitude to whoever came across.
Some good prompts could be to ask yourself if you let ego or judgment interfere in your decisions? What was your deepest intention in behaving as you did in a given moment? How do you feel about humanity in general?
Humble leaders will always adopt a servant leadership mindset. Because they know human connection is the foundation for a strong team.
My mentor had such a huge impact on me, that here I am, nearly 10 years later, writing about her.
We haven’t spoken in a long time but her advice was always relevant when I had to lead teams or when I had to future-proof my leadership.
And her advice is still relevant now that I have to lead a business – and therefore lead myself most of the time!
Yet, there’s no secret. To adopt a servant leadership mindset is to question how your ego interferes in your decisions. And instead, develop a strong will to empower others first.