“I think leadership is service and there is power in that giving: to help people, to inspire and motivate them to reach their fullest potential.”
This statement, which Denise Morrison, then president and chief executive officer of Campbell Soup Company, gave Forbes in 2012, captures the privilege and humble duty of leaders. At times, though, it can be difficult to capture the different types of service that can also be an example that promotes growth and development. Leaders serve through actions, and while service should be sincere and genuine, it is also something that should have a deliberate focus.
As the workplace continues to change and evolve at a rapid rate, deliberate service can fall by the wayside without an active, intentional focus on it. The following two approaches can help bring leaders back to service in a deliberate way:
1. Show Courage in Learning
Service is not always easy. It’s important for leaders to talk about how they are learning, to demonstrate that even though they are in a leadership role, it is essential for them to keep learning and growing as they work to serve their team in unique ways. Not only should they talk about their learning, but they should also work to courageously share what is easier for them to embrace and what is a struggle or causes discomfort as they work toward growth. Leaders can set the example that it is OK to talk about growth openly.
Leaders may focus on outcomes and forget to celebrate and recognize team members along the way. In this instance, as part of their service to their team, they may share that they are working on capturing recognition opportunities more frequently and in the moment. This approach helps them be more deliberate about growth and acknowledge the importance of being vulnerable.
If you are helping leaders grow in a formal learning setting, consider developing a “talking points” sheet as a takeaway, making it easier for leaders to share their learning as they adjust to their new process. They can also be more intentional in sharing with their team how they are growing, providing an active example.
2. Take Ownership, and Show Others It’s OK to Fail
Part of serving a team is owning both what goes well and what is a learning experience. Many leaders share in word that it is OK to fail but do a disservice to their team by not showing themselves the same grace in their failures. It’s imperative for leaders to model how they learn from failure and to talk openly with their team when something didn’t go as planned:
- What lessons did they learn?
- How did they evaluate the process?
- What fears do they have about not achieving a certain goal?
Imagine if your leader talked to you about his or her fears around achieving a goal? How would you feel about that conversation? Would it open the door to share your concerns? Would it give you the courage to ensure you aren’t falling into the cycle of “hustling for your worth” or trying to chase perfection instead of progress?
As a learning professional, how are you working to develop an environment where leaders can embrace thought experiments around how they feel about failure and how they can work toward feeling comfortable sharing? Did you know that revealing failures reduces malicious envy? In research by Harvard Business School assistant professor Alison Wood Brooks and doctoral students, leaders who revealed their failures did not have less admiration from others, and doing so did not affect the perception of their status. Revealing failure can also reduce attributes of a toxic workplace. Helping leaders learn to share their failures provides them with another outlet to serve by helping the people they lead to grow and develop.
For leaders, service should be at the top of the essentials list, but it’s not always easy to accomplish or deliver upon in the ever-changing work climate. It’s vital that leaders take service from awareness to application and make it part of their standard work. Service isn’t something that pops up on most leadership competency models in a deliberate way, and it’s important for talent development professionals to help bring meaningful growth exercises forward to grow this essential competency.