However, encouragement and recognition shouldn’t be a once-a-year event—it ought to be a leader’s constant mindset, according to Ken Blanchard, management expert and coauthor of The New One Minute Manager® and Leading at a Higher Level. In Blanchard’s opinion, the most effective leaders focus on serving the needs of their people all year long.
Blanchard’s belief is that organizations run best when leaders at all levels see themselves as servant leaders. As he explains, “The best leaders turn the organizational pyramid upside down so that they are at the bottom of the structure, serving their people who are at the top. The leaders provide support, remove obstacles, and act as cheerleaders. They are there to serve their people—so that their people can better serve their customers.”
Blanchard often gets puzzled looks from leaders when he first explains the concept of servant leadership. “Leaders think I’m describing a religious movement or advocating letting the inmates run the prison. What I’m really saying is that there are two sides to running a business. The first is strategic—setting the vision and direction. That’s the leadership part of servant leadership. Most leaders are familiar and comfortable with this side.
“But once organizational strategies are set, leaders have a new role. Now their job is operational—supporting the people who will bring the strategy to life. This means sitting down with direct reports, explaining the plan, identifying obstacles, and pulling together the resources needed to get the job done. That’s the servant part of servant leadership.” The good news is that leaders at all levels can serve their direct reports at an individual, team, or department level. Blanchard explains the step-by step process.
Get clear on goals. “All good performance begins with clear goals. Make sure that individual, team, department, and organizational goals are clear and written down so that they can be seen, communicated, and referred to frequently. Goals are too often unclear, poorly communicated, not written down, or never referred to until performance review."
Discuss competence and commitment. “Managers must sit down with their teams to discuss what’s required to achieve each goal. In Situational Leadership® II we teach that people approach each new task or goal from one of four development levels: the Enthusiastic Beginner, where an individual is excited but inexperienced at the task; the Disillusioned Learner, where an individual becomes discouraged; the Capable but Cautious Performer, where an individual has some experience but still needs occasional support; or the Self-Reliant Achiever, where an individual has a track record of success. It takes time to make this diagnosis at the beginning of a task or when setting a goal, but it will save time in the long run by avoiding misunderstandings, motivation issues, and rework.” Match your leadership style. “Depending on a person’s development level on a specific task or goal, the leader provides a matching leadership style—either Directing, Coaching, Supporting, or Delegating. The objective is to provide the direct report with the correct amount of direction and support to get the job done while avoiding over-supervision or under-supervision. This is the essence of servant leadership. The focus is on helping direct reports achieve their goals.”
Blanchard encourages leaders to practice a servant leadership mindset with direct reports every day, not just at year end. “Your job as a leader is to help your people succeed. Set clear goals with them, diagnose their development level on each goal, and then provide them with the direction and support they need to achieve those goals. It’s the best way to serve your people—not just now, but throughout the year.”