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Servant leadership: How to be a top team leader

24 May 2019

Whether you’re an owner manager or a team leader, Brett Davidson spells out some simple and practical tips for effective leadership in a small business...

leading from behind

“De-hassle, don’t de-motivate.” That is the advice of Verne Harnish, author of Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It... and Why the Rest Don’t.

If you’re in an ownership, leadership or management role in your business then this applies to you regardless of whether you’re running the whole show or a smaller team within the larger enterprise.

Most adviser-owners find themselves in a leadership or management role by default. They started out as great technicians and/or salespeople. They now find themselves running a genuine and growing business.

Maybe the same is true if you were a great paraplanner or administrator and suddenly find yourself leading a team of your former colleagues.

I find myself spending almost all of my consulting and coaching time on helping people to build teams effectively. And the secret to that is effective leadership. However, when I say leadership I think people start imagining General Patton or Winston Churchill. The reality of good leadership is much simpler.

So how do you lead when it’s not what you were trained to do? Here are a few rules that might help:

Rule No. 1: Don't de-motivate

I’m paraphrasing Verne from here on in, but the number one rule for me is this: don’t do things that will de-motivate your team.

There’s lots written about motivation, but in my view it’s mostly intrinsic. The more I’ve seen clients play around with incentive systems to motivate their team members, the more I’ve seen them get into serious trouble.

Trying to lead, or trying to be in charge, can be a recipe for disaster. In fact, in some cases where you have good people on your team, doing nothing would be better than what many managers I’ve worked with (in the distant past) do. Bad managers get involved in problem solving, thinking that they’re helping, when often they’re just meddling and causing confusion.

When I became the owner and leader in my own financial planning business, I too got involved and created chaos, especially with my back office support team. What do most advisers know about the back office? Nothing is the word you’re searching for. So stay out of it.

What if your goal wasn’t to lead, but to support the people that work for you? It sort of changes everything.

I’ve heard it called a ‘servant leadership’ mindset, and I like that, which leads me to rule number two.

Rule No. 2: De-hassle

De-hassle things for your team. Stop worrying about you and start focusing on them.

If you focus your energy and efforts on supporting your people, a lot of your role becomes de-hassling. Take away the hassles and roadblocks that get in the way of your team doing their jobs really well, and allow them to get the satisfaction that comes from doing so.

Where are your team stuck, impeded or held back in their ability to do their jobs? Not really sure? Why not ask them?

A regular conversation with the team about where they might need some obstacles removed gives you the opportunity to create your own hit list of blockages to remove for them.

  • Are they missing a skill set?
  • Do they require more training and support in using existing technology better?
  • Are they shorthanded or under resourced?

Rule No. 3: Keep up to date

For example, one firm I worked with knew that some of the office technology was getting long in the tooth. It was starting to impede the team doing their jobs. Although money was tight at the time, as we were turning things around, I still suggested that it was vital to replace the ageing technology; even if they had to borrow some money.

They did invest, and it sent a powerful message to the team that they cared about them having the right tools. Several years on and the business is performing strongly.

When you look at this example, all they did was de-hassle, but it comes across as sound leadership.

Rule No. 4: Keep the conversation going

Another firm I worked with many years ago created training and development plans for everyone on the team. Sounds like a great idea, right?

At the end of the year, no one on the team had engaged in any of the development they’d committed to.

To be clear, this is a great business, with a fantastic group of people on the team, and a high-quality owner-leader at the helm. So what happened?

After some review, we realised that just creating the plans with people - the team had been involved all the way through - wasn't enough. The conscientious and hard-working team members didn’t quite feel they could just book themselves on a course and disappear for a day. That was the sticking point that needed to be de-hassled.

The following year the owner became more hands-on in helping people commit to what had been agreed – a relatively small but important step in improving the business and the team.

Rule No. 5: Get what you want

After reading Rocket Fuel: The One Essential Combination That Will Get You More of What You Want from Your Business, by Gino Wickman and Mark Winters, I discovered that the book had a LinkedIn group for Visionaries (owners) and Integrators (managers).

One manager quoted a conversation they’d had with the owner of the business. They told them in no uncertain terms: “You can do what you want, or you can get what you want. Pick one.” I love it as a mantra to remind myself as an owner and leader in my own business, to stay focused on what we’re trying to achieve.

‘Doing what I want’ means not playing by the same rules as the team, or showing how smart I am and telling people what to do. I’ve been doing this a long time, you know.

‘Getting what I want’ means allowing good people to just get on with it. It means doing my part of the process to the best of my ability, so that I’m not the reason for any stuff ups and, if there are problems, to consider how they might be fixed or removed as problems. To be honest, on my team, usually that means asking a question and listening, as someone better than me comes up with a way to address it.

By adopting a de-hassle mindset as a leader you can dramatically improve your effectiveness, which allows the whole team to get what they want in the end.

Brett Davidson is founder of FP Advance