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Question: How do I explain servant leadership to my team?

Answer: The first step is you demonstrate servant leadership to your team.

Last week I attended the Popeyes international franchise conference in the windy city of Chicago, Illinois. This is the highlight of our year, as we gather with restaurant owners from across the U.S. and around the world. We celebrate our top performing people. We hear inspiring speakers. We review the long and short term plans to grow Popeyes business. And perhaps, most importantly, we catch up with one another.

During a meeting with one of our franchisees, I was asked this question: How do I explain servant leadership to my team?

My first thought was to review the definition of servant leadership – explaining that it is about thinking of others as more significant than yourself.  Simple enough. Just tell all the people to be selfless, right?

But on reflection, this is not how you explain servant leadership to anyone. The only way to communicate servant leadership is to demonstrate servant leadership. So in that vein, the answer to this question requires you to ask this question of yourself:

Am I doing everything I can do to set my team up for success?

Clear Expectations: Have I sat with each person on my team and explained our goals? Have I worked with them to define their role in reaching those goals? Have we established specific projects/tasks that they will need to complete? Have we set milestones where we will check progress? Have we agreed on what success would look like? Is there a written summary of our agreement on expectations? People cannot imagine the expectations of the leader – they need clarity up front.

Development: Have I met with each person on my team and mapped out a development plan for the year ahead? Have we discussed their strengths and areas of opportunity? Are their specific plans for the team member to demonstrate growth ? At Popeyes, we believe 70% of development occurs on the job – usually, with an assignment that challenges the person and gives them a place to demonstrate results. Another 20% of development comes from coaching and mentoring relationships. And the final 10% comes through learning opportunities – books, classes, etc.

Resources: Have I provided the resources required to deliver the goals and the development plan – the staffing, the dollars, the investment? In my experience, we often fail to sync up the expectations with the resources required – and thereby make it less likely for the team to succeed. In the restaurant business, for example, owners sometimes fail to repair the equipment required to run a restaurant – and then criticize the restaurant team for falling short of goals. This lacks integrity.

Feedback: Have I planned regular conversations to give the team feedback on their performance – to celebrate work well done and to coach on opportunity areas observed? Can they trust that I will give them timely feedback – and balanced feedback, not just bad news? Am I candid and fair and professional when I speak with the team?  We often say that “feedback is a gift,” and then everyone laughs out loud – because in our life experience we are so used to receiving only negative feedback. There is an opportunity to improve the reputation of the word “feedback.” Perhaps we should call it encouragement?

Caring: Have I expressed genuine interest and concern in the team member? Not just an occasional, “how’s it going,” as you walk by their desk. Instead, have I spent time learning about their interests, their families, and their circumstances? Have I celebrated with them when they received good news? Have I expressed concern or comforted them when something bad happens? Have I relaxed and laughed with them? In my opinion, this is the single most overlooked aspect of setting people up for success. Yet, the best results come from teams that feel deeply cared for by their leaders.

Recently, I visited a franchisee that is known for top performance results in our system. When I asked how he consistently delivered these results, he said, “I hire good people, I give them everything they need to be successful, and then I ask them to give this organization their very best work – and I hold them accountable to deliver.” Then he looked over a one of the team members and said, “How’s your Mom doing? Have you gone home for a visit lately?” Now that’s a “demo!”

So how do you explain servant leadership to your team?  The first step is – you demonstrate servant leadership – by setting them up for success.

Serve well.

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