What is a trusted service leader?

Leaders lead people, rather than processes – the vision of that strong and unwavering leader who has all the answers is a thing of the past. In fact, many incredibly successful leaders are blatant service leaders – but what is service leadership?

Service leadership is that powerful characteristic that encompasses the heart to serve, the call to lead, and the courage to engage.

  • Heart to serve – is not about downgrading your position, more about realising that your abilities, passions, and skills have a dramatic and positive effect to help others to reach their potential
  • Call to lead – is about answering that drive that transfers ideas into actions, creates the vision, and shows the way, and helps others unlock their leadership potential
  • Courage to engage – is the ability to recognise and accept collaboration as the key to success, and to work consistently with collaboration rather than isolation

Heart to serve + Call to lead + Courage to engage = Service leadership

Great service leaders also share other traits like talking ‘service’ 24/7 rather than processes, products, or planning. They describe everything in the context of the impact it will have on their client or customer. They create a common ‘service language’ across an organisation that’s accessible for all roles, and they walk the walk – by demonstrating new and different examples of their vision every day.

They actively remove the barriers to their team’s success, and they are super consistent in all their service traits. They put in place service measures alongside the traditional sales and margin measures. And ultimately, they inspire trust, that very fragile two-way bond that allows others to follow them with confidence and allows the leader to trust in the skills, intent, and capability of their teams.

Service leadership and trust go hand in hand, and by being able to show that their self-orientation is outward-facing (focused on the needs and success of others) rather than inward (focused on ‘what’s in it for them/the organisation’) defines a functional leader from service leader. This doesn’t mean the success of the organisation isn’t important – it’s simply a matter of how you get there – and if your values and beliefs are based on the whole team delivering the success and sharing in the celebration and reward, that’s service leadership.

In his book, The Virgin Way, Richard Branson says that good managers are important to supervise others, play by the ‘rules’, read the maps they’re handed – however, he points out that this tells you nothing about how comfortable these managers are to lead into new territory, create, innovate and influence others to follow them and take the venture forward – which requires a high degree of trust.

As with any emotional aspect, there is a balance though: too much trust either way could mean clues or signposts to failure, poor performance or lack of capability is missed – blind trust without evidence. Too little trust, however, can lead to a ‘command & control’ leadership style or worse, a cynical workforce. Trust is a powerful emotion and must never be overused or exploited. Great service leaders are always realistic and open to the possibilities of what might happen and encourage others to be aware of the same.

In any organisational situation there can often be a blurring of the lines between institutional and personal trust – it’s a fragile link. This is navigated by using sincere honesty. Again, great service leaders are consistent and aligned in living their personal values, the behaviours that reinforce your beliefs, even if this means sometimes challenging organisational behaviours.

They consider the external factors too – service leaders understand that trust extends wider than just the organisation and is impacted by Facebook revelations, fake news or anything showing incongruence with their base ‘values’.

Therefore, being completely honest and authentic is critical as a service leader – after all who can hold two personas for long? So, by living personal values throughout, great service leaders continue to deepen that trusted relationship with their teams by always being authentic and honest, and building that ‘always on’ demonstration of solid values that supports others like a brick wall.

Finally, laser self-awareness is an important and strong characteristic of service leaders – they have the ability to share their weaknesses, asking for help or delegating to someone who they recognise does it better, without concern for their own status.

Trust is never a given though and it’s built, particularly within an organisation through various phases of relationships with teams, leaders, peers or colleagues over time – it’s never expected and always won through showing rather than telling.

In summary – the benefits of a trusted service leadership mindset make perfect business sense – here’s our take on why:

Heart to serve

  • The ability to appropriately share the load – delegate and ask for help
  • Creating reliable teams who have a shared sense of respect and fairness

Call to lead

  • Creating a shared vision and purpose – glueing the team together
  • Forging the path into new ventures – guiding and trusting the collective to turn source into resource

Courage to engage

  • Ensure confidentiality where needed
  • Consistently tweak the flow without disrupting through listening, correcting and being curious
Lindsey Marriott
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Lindsey Marriott

Lindsey is a passionate trainer and learning consultant, driven by a firm belief that harnessing the input of clients, customers and employees and bringing those together, is the most super valuable business resource. She loves to work with organisations that move people (train/plane/airport/coach), logistics, call centres, engineering – in fact, if you rely on a remote workforce to deliver your service proposition, Lindsey understands you. Her passion comes from wanting to help your people shift from ‘process-led’ to ‘service-led’ thinking. She believes clients already have great people, services and products – and its often small adjustments or adaptations, rather than massive changes that help to realise your targets.