I worked with a team that was struggling to make decisions. As I began to identify elements contributing to this challenge, I noticed a trend. When I asked the employees why they didn’t make decisions, many said they were nervous because they did not know how their leaders would respond.
Specifically, if they made the wrong decision, would they be ridiculed? Would they be fired? Even when they felt they knew the right decision, they were still unsure about how their leader would respond. I wish this were a unique example, but I have come across this time and again when working with teams.
Servant leadership can break down barriers and align teams so they can feel empowered and committed to their decisions.
One of the tools I use is the idea of “viewpoints.” Viewpoints are made up of the following three key elements:
- Assumptions – interpretations we make about our experiences and environment.
We know the impact our assumptions can have on our interactions. Rarely do we know the “whole picture” and when we don’t have all the details, we assume. I have had experiences where I became upset at someone because I assumed a certain tone to an email. Had I picked up the phone or walked over to the other person, I would have quickly realized I was wrong.
- Perspectives – developed from our own personal life experiences.
Our life experiences can be quite valuable to daily interactions. Think about your own life story: where you grew up, your childhood experiences, where you went to school, where you worked, your relationships. No one else has lived those same experiences. Think about a situation at work where you had no idea how to proceed. You asked others, gained additional insight and hopefully gained a new perspective. Each employee within an organization brings a different perspective. I encourage all leaders to take advantage of that and be curious, asking questions of your team to gather their perspectives.
- Expectations – requirements we have when interacting with others.
Expectations are the things I expect from those I interact with. provide five levels of expectations we should consider when interacting in the workplace:
- What type of relationships am I hoping to develop?
- How do I expect to stretch myself in my job?
- What can I give to our programs?
- What professional goals do I want to accomplish?
- What do I expect to learn?
- What do I expect this job to do for me professionally?
- How do I want others to treat me?
- What do I need from my colleagues to be successful?
- What is important to build a sense of community with colleagues?
- What kind of guidance or autonomy do I expect?
- What do I need from my supervisor to be successful?
- What role do I expect my supervisors to play with the program?
- What kind of resource support am I expecting from the organization?
- What do I expect to be available to me at any time?
- How do I expect my resource requests to be handled?
Each level of expectation impacts a different part of your work (perspectives). Answering these questions also provides clarity around your interactions so you don’t jump to conclusions (assumptions). Our viewpoints are foundational to our clarity within our environment, but how can servant leadership positively shape and influence clarity within our teams and organization?
states, “The best leaders are clear. They continually light the way, and in the process, let each person know that what they do makes a difference.” One of the key responsibilities of leadership is the ability to light the path forward for your team. Demonstrating the ability to clearly articulate the goal and vision for the team. As with any team, without a vision or goal, what is the purpose of their work?
“By clearly stating and restating the goal the leader gives certainty and purpose to others who may have difficulty in achieving it for themselves” Greenleaf says. Within any organization, clarity must pass through several layers. The president or CEO of a company needs to have clarity on the vision of the organization. Each layer below also needs to understand where the company is going, but also how their work supports the overall vision.
This is going to look different for every team, and it should. If every member of an organization were working on the same thing, there would never be movement. Every employee within an organization brings something unique that allows the vision to come to life. Leaders must foster an environment that encourages employees to bring those unique viewpoints to the group.
provide six themes of servant leadership that can be directly tied to leadership clarity and team clarity. The following themes have shown to increase a team’s effectiveness (self-reflection questions included with each theme):
- Are my employees held accountable? Do I hold myself accountable?
Engaging in honest self-evaluation
- Have I truly examined my role before others?
Communicating with clarity
- Do my employees really understand what I am saying?
Supporting and resourcing
- Do my employees have what they need to get the job done?
- Do I encourage and support collaboration internally and externally?
Valuing and appreciating
- Do my employees know how much I value and appreciate their contributions?
Each theme requires self-reflection and action for a team to establish a foundation that is built on alignment of expectations and clarity on where the team is going. Many teams struggle with clarity. Leaders can overcome that barrier by emphasizing the importance of clarity in direction, interactions and outcomes.