Leadership philosophies have evolved over the past few years to a servant leader philosophy, where the leader’s first responsibility is to their workers, with the belief that the organization truly flourishes through serving them. When their leaders serve them, employees feel cared for, which is then reflected in their work. This leadership philosophy found its roots in my military career and continues to be the key to my cyber company’s success.
The Army – A Foundation in Servant Leadership
Leading troops into enemy fire is a foolproof way to engender a servant leader mentality. I enlisted in the Army out of high school because I didn’t particularly like school and wanted hands-on experience instead of four more years of sitting in class. In doing so, I was able to catch a glimpse of the world of vocational learning, something that has been lost in today’s society.
Apart from allowing me to become a technical expert, my hands-on experience in the military helped me see first-hand how being a servant leader is crucial to gaining the trust of your troops. Most Soldiers have stories about officers and non-commissioned officers who put their career aspirations over the needs of their units. These leaders are often skilled at impressing their superiors, but they do so at the expense of their troops. Army Soldiers need leaders who are willing to sleep in the ditches, eat last, and do the same tasks they ask of their subordinates.
How to Identify the Servant Leaders on Your Team
After 21 years of practice, I was able to boil the concept of servant leadership down to a few key qualities. A servant leader listens to their employees and flattens communications across their organization. The first-hand experience that servant leaders consistently have allows them to empathize with their employees to understand the challenges they are facing. As a result, they are readily accessible to their employees and they delegate authority to the lowest level possible, which creates a sense of ownership.
Successful Leaders Have One Trait in Common
To recruit servant leaders, we have focused on identifying people who share a common trait: humility. Humility allows leaders to recognize their own weaknesses and find the people who can fill those gaps. In addition, humble leaders inherently treat their subordinates with respect. They have genuine compassion and empathy that’s ingrained in their personality. Anyone trying to fake it is quickly discovered (as I have personally experienced). If I took anything from my military career, it’s that treating your employees with respect goes a long way toward building mutual trust and a cohesive team.
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Servant Leaders Rent Their Success — They Don’t Own It
Servant leaders do not have an issue with admitting they do not own their success. Rather, they rent it, and can always lose it. Success is not bought, it is fleeting and servant leaders know their success is intricately entwined with the members of their teams, and those people are constantly changing. Their circumstances, lives, and motivations all change. Being truly successful requires a good leader to keep their finger on the organizational pulse. SixGen’s success is contingent upon my employees’ success, so adapting to changing circumstances helps us all get to a common goal efficiently.
Most of the leaders at SixGen have also overcome some sort of significant challenge in their personal lives. These experiences have, without exception, helped our leaders recognize the fragility of human relationships. Going through these experiences changes them and there’s an innate difference in the way they treat other people because of it. That’s the quality we look for in servant leaders.
Servant leadership involves open, honest communication. Whether it’s the good, the bad, or the ugly, it needs to be said. If an employee misses the mark, it is important to let them know. On the other hand, employees who hit a home run deserve public recognition. Business wins are a team effort and employee contributions are always a big part of this.
Servant Leadership In the Cyber World
Cyber professionals face a constantly shifting environment, with new challenges and obstacles to overcome on a daily basis. America’s enemies don’t sleep, and we can’t rest in developing ways to defend against their constant probes and attacks. My personal experience facing those challenges has helped me see the fight from my employees’ perspectives.
Our employees know their leaders truly understand their work and can step in if needed.
Beyond a shared understanding, servant leadership has helped us flatten and speed up our communications, which results in the ability to rapidly implement solutions. Our company has delegated decision-making authority to the lowest possible level. This allows the person closest to the problem to implement a solution and helps our employees grow through their decision-making experiences.
Companies Need Servant Leadership
Servant leaders set their teams up for success, across the board. My experience in the military helped me establish a foundation as a leader that would guide my team to success by doing things the right way. This first-hand, ground-floor experience builds character. It refines your expertise. It gives your employees a leader they know they can trust.
The move to servant leadership may be a new one, but I am confident it will not be temporary. Success may be rented; but with strong leadership, we are able to guide our employees towards the highest level of success and growth, creating companies that can not only survive the storms of business, but thrive in them.