As we find ourselves working and leading our teams through the COVID-19 crisis, a meaningful quote by leadership expert John Maxwell resonates with us:
“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
To us, this quote speaks about “servant leadership.” Servant leadership is the belief that the most effective leaders strive to serve others, including colleagues, direct reports, and employees, rather than accrue power, knowledge, money, or control. Servant leadership disregards title, authority, and hierarchy and, instead, embraces that which serves others so they may become their most effective, valued, and engaged.
The increased stress that everyone experiences in varying degrees stirs up natural and powerful self-protective instincts. In a way, the toilet paper panic buying frenzy of a few weeks ago is a remnant of that primal urge. It makes sense.
But while it is natural to be self-protective, it is just as evident that we are all sharing the experience of this global pandemic. Especially now, servant leaders must set aside their self-serving efforts and serve others.
Knowing the importance of servant leadership and adopting a leadership approach that seeks to help others over ourselves is vital for this time. Allow us to offer three ways that you can demonstrate this style of leadership to engage and serve others.
- Awareness: Now is an opportune time to be aware of what others are experiencing both professionally and personally. Respect the situations, feelings, strengths, and challenges of those around you. At the same time you must also be aware of the same things about yourself in order to sustain and remain an effective leader.
- Listening: We all are struggling and need to be heard and understood. Servant leaders listen to understand by allowing more space in the conversation for others, which turns into a wonderful gift. Not only must you hear what is being said, you must notice what’s not being said, including non-verbal cues that play a role in how someone’s message is being conveyed.
- Empathy: It is important now more than ever to be patient and empathetic toward colleagues who may be experiencing their own considerable stress and fear in their own unique way. Empathy means making room for your colleagues to be themselves. Demonstrating a level of patience for stretched, distracted, and irritated colleagues is vital. Empathize more, judge less.
Take a look around and you’ll recognize how everyone, independent of status or title, is stepping in to serve others, humbly checking that they are all right emotionally and psychologically to engage in the work at hand. Knowing that we are all in this together, imagine what might happen in our personal and professional relationships if we paid less regard to status for a short time and become a servant leader.
We will defeat this virus together. Remember, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”