It’s time for your annual performance review. You walk into your boss’s office, sit down and prepare for the litany of clichéd critiques and uninspiring atta boys. You try to decipher the feedback and pull out some actionable items, but grounding the theoretical appraisal proves difficult. You leave the room with your intrinsic motivation weakened by the encounter.
Now imagine this: Instead of a performance review, your boss sits you down and asks you how she can improve, how the company can flourish and how both can stay truer to their values. You’re naturally full of ideas, so you take the opportunity to launch into new concepts you’d been keeping in the back of your mind. You work with your boss to come up with a plan to improve the company and help her elevate her performance. You leave the meeting motivated by the prospect of working with your boss to create something great.
Every six months at Gravity Payments, we do this type of review. We seek to turn the boss-employee relationship upside down and create an environment in which leaders exist to serve those around them. Historically leadership has been about amassing power in order to operate paternalistically at best and tyrannically at worst. The notion of servant leadership has since permeated the business world, but too often it is used only as a more efficient way to gain authority, not as a way to truly serve.
Real servant leadership is about giving without the expectation of receiving. It’s not an incremental change; it’s a complete paradigm shift.
Real servant leadership is about giving without the expectation of receiving. It’s not an incremental change; it’s a complete paradigm shift. Many people struggle with this because they are used to being the ones with all of the answers. Making this leap requires a certain level of vulnerability, but those able to challenge the leadership status quo will reap the benefits.
If you succeed in shifting to the role of servant leader, you will find the surprises you receive are far more impressive and humbling than you expected. When I made the decision to implement a $70,000-a-year minimum wage at Gravity Payments, I expected our business to take a financial hit. I took the risk, and my team surpassed my expectations. Not only did our business accelerate, but a year after the implementation of the policy, our team banded together and bought me a Tesla to thank me. Ask yourself, Am I truly working to serve the people around me, or for personal gain? If the answer is personal gain, try beginning the journey to servant leadership by requesting to be held accountable, rather than the other way around.
Follow these steps to become a servant leader:
- Instead of spending your time defining expectations for your team, spend it identifying how you can support them.
- Have your team keep an eye on your actions rather than the other way around.
- Ask for feedback rather than telling your team what to do.
- Resist the urge to accumulate power. Focus on giving it away.