We’re facing an extraordinary moment in human history where serving one another may actually be critical to our future. During these uncertain times, the fact is that people up the hierarchy don’t really know any more than anyone else about what the future holds. I’ve heard an interesting mantra for this time of quarantine, social distancing, and sheltering in place: “A day is a week, a week is a month, and anything beyond a month is out of sight.” Sometimes it feels like time is standing still even though unexpected changes are happening every day.
Servant leaders can help others work through this stressful situation by serving them in three ways: sharing information, listening to people’s concerns, and being a bearer of hope.
Serve by Sharing Information
Serving people during tough times requires leaders to share information—both what they know and what they don’t know. Leaders who want to build a culture of trust, responsibility, and mastery need to share information with their people, especially during difficult times. Why? Because people who are kept in the dark will come up with their own “what if” scenarios, which can quickly turn into rumors and cause problems. But when you give your direct reports the information they need, you are treating them as your business partners. They feel included and informed. They are now able to think things through and make better decisions for themselves.
Providing your people with relevant information not only strengthens trust, but it also projects a sense of “we’re in this together.” When direct reports understand the big picture, they can better appreciate how their contribution fits in and how their behavior affects other aspects of the organization. All of this leads to responsible, goal-related use of people’s ideas, experience, and motivation. Your people have knowledge—tap into that resource and make them your business partners.
Sharing information is a great example of side-by-side management that is based on this tenet of servant leadership: People without accurate information cannot act responsibly; people with accurate information feel compelled to act responsibly.
Serve by Listening to People’s Concerns
Once leaders have shared information, especially during change, people need to be able to process what they have been told. This often includes the desire to talk about their concerns with their manager. As a servant leader, you must be ready and willing to listen to and address those concerns. You can’t solve every problem, of course—but people need to know you empathize with them. Just giving someone an opportunity to express their thoughts may ease their mind a bit—and it allows them to feel heard.
Reach out to your people and listen to their concerns. Answer their questions. Encourage them, be with them, and serve them.
Serve by Being a Bearer of Hope
A servant leader is also a bearer of hope in hard times. This doesn’t mean you hide or avoid the truth about the hardships people are facing—but as a leader, it’s important that you communicate a hopeful outlook. A couple of my friends mine were saying how it’s easier to get through hard times if you also pay attention to good things that are happening. That’s an example of hope. Another friend says, “Don’t waste a crisis!” She believes in using times like these to change her attitude for the better. Maintaining hope is about seeing a difficult situation for what it is while also believing that better times are ahead—it’s a reality we can realize together. I like to remind people that together, we have the capability to do anything. None of us is as smart as all of us!
Being a bearer of hope is as simple as this: I know we can get through this whole thing and come out on the other side better than we are now. We’ve been through hard times before. We’re going to be okay. I choose to be a bearer of hope. I’ll bet you can be a bearer of hope, too.
Be Ready to Serve
As servant leaders, we are here to serve our people through thick and thin. We give them the information they need so that they are clear about what’s going on and where they stand. We listen to people’s concerns and are there for them. We reach out to help and encourage them. We are bearers of hope during dark times. We are leaders who are ready to serve, not be served. And as servant leaders, we carry the responsibility—especially right now—to find ways to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. In the process, we will surely enrich our own.
Take care, be safe, and stay healthy!