As we make the transition to the future of work, many long-held assumptions are being questioned. Does the relationship between work and life really need to be a zero-sum balance, where one comes at the expense of the other? Does geography still matter when it comes to forming teams or joining organizations?
I addressed these questions in my previous blog post, but there’s one question I left out because it’s a big one: do team members serve their managers—or is it really the other way around?
Of course, great teams are built on a foundation of mutual support and service among all of their members, including both managers and those who report to them. Everyone works together to help each other get the best results for the business. But as the traditional image of a boss who is a overbearing and thinks he/she knows it all breaks down, innovative leaders are thinking deeply about what it means to be meaningfully aligned to their employees. Today, effective managers don’t demand service from their teams—they serve them, coach them, remove barriers to success and empower them to do their best work.
At Citrix, a we’re about winning together. Winning as a united, Citrix team and winning with our partners and clients. A core tenet of winning together is the concept of servant leadership. It’s something we’re working on after seeing bright spots throughout the company where this model is used. Managers are empowered and encouraged to lead by serving their teams. We hire top talent and let them do what they’re great at. Managers remove obstacles, position their teams for success, and advocate for and listen to their teams in order to drive our shared goals and enable the extraordinary.
Here are a few principles of servant leadership that I strive to adhere to every day with my teams at Citrix.
Inspire with a vision
People do their best work when they have a clear sense of purpose for their efforts. How will my work improve the lives of our customers and the future of our business? It’s the manager’s job to translate high-level corporate messages and initiatives into concrete terms that are relevant on a team level: we will help customers solve this problem, improve this experience, and capture this opportunity. The results we achieve together will help the teams around us accomplish their own goals, strengthen our organization’s market performance, lay a foundation for new successes. We’re not cogs in a machine, oblivious to the context and meaning of our labor—we’re valued participants in a collective enterprise to make a better success.
Providing a vision may seem like it goes without saying, but think about all the managers you’ve worked with. How many of them framed your work in terms of numerical targets—widgets assembled and sold, dollars reaching the bottom line, investor returns? Did that help you spring out of bed in the morning, ready to take on the world and overcome every obstacle, or did it make you feel like just another figure on a spreadsheet? When people are excited about the work they’re doing and its larger meaning, everyone wins—employees, managers and the business. It’s the leader’s job to fuel that fire.
Leaders also owe it to their teams to provide a strong role model for the right way to work. Through both their words and their actions, managers have to demonstrate a sense of responsibility, accountability and courage in the interests of the business. Putting aside ego and self-serving behavior, they show that success is a shared endeavor, not an individual pursuit. They take risks, learn from their mistakes, trust their colleagues and make themselves trustworthy as well.
Support and mentor
Servant leaders get excited thinking about the untapped potential of their team members. They know that each new skill acquired or achievement reached will not only add value for the business; it will also improve the life of the employee, bringing new opportunities and successes within reach. This isn’t an entirely altruistic impulse—although good leaders do care about the well-being of employees, they also understand that the stronger each team member gets, the stronger the team itself becomes.
Support and mentorship extends beyond specific skills to encompass the employee’s broader understanding of the business, and even his or her approach to work and career in general. As a new generation enters the workforce, millennials strong in theoretical knowledge will need to learn more nuanced, pragmatic lessons as well: what does it mean to be a member of a team? How do you deal with setbacks—including the ones you may have caused yourself (hint: see my post on growth mindset)? How do you develop a roadmap for your career, and find new ways to contribute to the business?
I’ve written before about new approaches to performance, development, and rewards. That’s very much a part of this conversation—servant leaders must move beyond high-stakes annual meetings and make the time to engage in meaningful conversations throughout the year. In our case, the employees drive these meetings and schedule them as needed. We do this because a check-in (or Touchpoint in our case) isn’t just another item to be crossed off the manager’s list of things to do—it’s one of the most important services a manager provides to the team.
Listen, challenge and validate
By the time you’ve risen to a management position, it’s understandable to think that you have all the answers—or at least more of them than their greener team members. But servant leaders know that good ideas can come from anywhere, and they actively solicit feedback and suggestions from everyone at the table, creating an environment where employees suggest ideas freely. This also means valuing their employees enough to take them seriously and not humor them. When an idea is shortsighted or unworkable, they take the time to explain why, so that the team member feels heard and is encouraged to stay engaged. You never know how good their next idea might be—and you’ll never find out if you shut them down instead of drawing them out.
By the same token, the servant leader isn’t afraid to admit that they’ve got something wrong or run out of ideas. They ask for help, and in so doing, show the kind of trust that builds loyalty. They also make sure to give credit where it’s due. There’s nothing more motivational than being called out for your crucial role in a success, and it makes you want to keep those successes coming.
Servant leadership calls for a healthy amount of humility, but it should never be mistaken for a surrender of authority. The best managers are strong leaders—confident and decisive, with high standards and expectations for the team. They are always in the vanguard, looking for new ways to unlock the team’s potential and improve its productivity, from new technologies to better models for communication and collaboration. They lead the charge to a better future, and help their team members make it a reality.
These are some of the way I try to serve my teams. How are you serving your teams?