Leading Compassionately: 8 Values for Successful Servant Leaders

Outline: ValuesPatienceTrustGrudgelessHonestyCommunicationServant LeadershipWalk the TalkCommitment | Final Thoughts

What comes to mind when you think of the phrase “servant leadership”? For many, the image that arises is of someone who manages teams and organizations with a lackadaisical “hugs and kisses” approach.

But after years of experience as a healthcare professional and successful leader, I’ve come to realize that this assumption is an inaccurate, weak portrayal of what I consider to be one of the most valuable styles of leadership. It is one that derives its philosophy from the basics of compassionate communication and emotional intelligence.

Servant leadership is a style of management that ensures a leader’s team members feel heard, seen and valued. This is proven to yield higher levels of job performance and outstanding personal and organizational results. But, most importantly, I believe that it is just the right thing to do. In an era defined by distrust of authority, corrupt business, and horror stories pertaining to workplace culture, the truth is clear: we need compassionate people in positions of power…now more than ever.

That’s why I’ve written a new book, Driven by Compassion, to highlight the eight core values for successful servant leaders. I believe these values will help you “remember, refresh, and renew” why you originally decided to accept the awesome responsibility of leading an organization’s most valuable resource for success—its people.

8 Values for Successful Servant Leaders

The eight values emphasized here will motivate those who desire to be successful servant leaders, both in their professional and personal life. The kindhearted, loving, and compassionate values that embody this philosophy are the following:

1. Patience:

Mastering the ability to exhibit self-control in challenging and tense situations both publicly and privately. The key here is to not lose your patience and admonish someone publicly. Let’s briefly imagine a scenario together. 

A Chief Operating Officer of a large company is unhappy with client satisfaction results from the previous quarter, even though results have been consistently excellent historically. When the executive tries to explain the circumstances, the COO publicly announces that the executives need to learn to “walk and chew gum at the same time.”

So, how do you think the executive felt after being admonished in public? This was a conversation that should have been held privately.

2. Trustful:

Encouraging those you lead with support and belief in their talent and skills. What is the number one sign of distrust? It is choosing to interrupt an individual while they are speaking or simply deciding not to listen actively.

How many times in your life could you tell that someone was not actively listening to you? Did it make you feel unimportant and that your words had no meaning? 

These actions can lead us to feel inadequate or insignificant. Servant leaders who follow active listening guidelines should be the last ones to speak so that everyone is heard, especially in group settings.

3. Grudgeless:

Being willing to forgive professionally and personally. Pastor Jeff Henderson once said, “the longer you hold a grudge, the longer the grudge has a hold on you.” The ripple effect of forgiveness is almost always extremely positive. I would rather be known for being slow to fire and quick to forgive, than quick to fire and slow to forgive.

4. Honesty and Integrity:

Being open and truthful individually and for anything regarding the organization. The need for honesty and integrity is both corporate and individual. Here’s an example of corporate integrity:

A large healthcare system is making a major organizational change regarding the management of a key clinical service line and decides not to include two out of the three major physician groups, all while keeping the planning secret. As you can imagine, the two other groups become furious and leave the system to build a strong program with a major competitor. 

From an ethical and business perspective, the other two groups should have been included from the beginning. Clear and transparent communication is always key to this particular servant leadership value.

5. Communication:

Communicative staff meeting reflecting how communication is a core value for successful servant leadership

Practicing regular and consistent communication tactics that include genuine encouragement and honest feedback. A true servant leader is the organization’s model for open and transparent communication.

Consider what makes someone stand out as a leader. Handwritten thank-you notes sent to an employee’s home, following the 10/5 rule (walking with head up, acknowledging someone from 10 feet away with a smile, and acknowledging someone with a “hello” at 5 feet)—simple acts like these can make a huge difference.   There are many more ways to foster better communication just by being visible and accessible regularly.

6. Servant Leadership:

Facilitating the success of those you serve leads to both organizational and personal success. Is it about your success or the success of those you lead?

There is no greater satisfaction than watching someone or a group you lead enjoy success with your help and support. It is important to remember that this value requires you to put aside your ego and agenda. Please remember that their success is your success, as well as the organization’s success.

7. Walk the Talk:

Living and breathing love and compassion in your daily leadership journey. How many leaders in our country and the world today claim to “walk the talk” but actually do not? How many of them practice “good for thee but not for me?”

Nothing is more demotivating and discouraging than seeing your leader not “walking the talk” regularly. This has a devastating effect on employee engagement and productivity. For example, I would be walking down the hallways of the organization I led with my head down, deep in thought. Remember the 10/5 rule? Employees would remind me and say, “Hey Dave, eyes up!” They noticed that I was not doing something that I was requiring of them and chose to remind me. 

The people you lead notice. Don’t be one of those who practice the “do as I say and not as I do.”

8. Commitment:

Staying dedicated and true to your personal and professional values no matter the circumstances—good and bad.

It is clear that to be a successful and compassionate servant leader, one must be fully committed to this value and leadership style. Inconsistent commitment will lead to inconsistent employee engagement and performance. Employees you lead need to know that you are committed to them through your actions and deeds.

Final Thoughts

I read somewhere that leadership is not about being the best but about making everyone else better. Compassionate servant leadership ensures that a leader’s team members feel heard and valued, ultimately leading to higher levels of job performance and organizational results. Isn’t that what we all want from ourselves and those we lead? As Pastor Peter Dahlin states, “it is cool to be kind.” 

David Zechman

Author’s Bio

David M. Zechman was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He started his thirty-nine-year career in healthcare as a respiratory therapist and subsequently held leadership positions from supervisor to CEO in urban and rural Midwest hospitals. David has achieved the status of “Life Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.” Currently, David is a renowned public speaker and consultant and serves as an active member of both healthcare and non-healthcare not-for-profit boards.

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