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How to Motivate Your Team Members by Putting Their Needs First

Practicing "servant leadership" will bolster your team's success and foster an environment of respect across your organization.

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This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.


Leadership styles are like fingerprints. They leave an unmistakable mark on whatever they touch and are unique to each individual. And while we don't get to choose our fingerprints, we do get to choose how we lead those around us.

I've had the opportunity to see a wide variety of leadership styles. I gained most of my experience working at large corporations, but for 20 years I've been married to an entrepreneur who showed me the challenges that come with running your own business. I've learned that no matter the size of your organization or the scope of your role at work, you can be a leader. But deciding which leadership style is right for you takes time.

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For me, servant leadership has proven to be the most effective approach. If you haven't heard the term before, it's the practice of "serving first' and allowing your needs to be secondary to those of your colleagues and organization.

Here are five steps you can take as a servant leader:

1. Be humble.

Ego plays a huge role in your leadership style. I believe confidence balanced with humility is a recipe for leadership success. Don't let personal pride get in the way of trying something new. Always assume someone in the room is smarter than you. You'll learn more that way.

I see this kind of humility on a regular basis from Cynt Marshall, chief diversity officer of AT&T. She has an incredibly demanding job that requires a significant investment in time for all her internal and external commitments. But when you talk to her, she gives you 100 percent of her attention and makes it clear you're her number one priority at that moment. She constantly uplifts her team by celebrating their great work, and she goes out of her way to make them look good. As a result, people follow her without question.

Related: How Businesses Need to Change Their Leadership Styles in a Tumultuous World

2. Trust your team.

In most cases, you hired the people on your team because you were confident in their abilities. Trust your intuition, and give up a little control. Creativity flourishes in an open environment, so don't constrict your employees by involving yourself in smaller decisions that they can handle. Giving your team room to grow will benefit everyone in the long run.

I was on the receiving end of this kind of trust when I was a CFO supporting AT&T's call centers. Our boss tasked us with trying to figure out how to reduce the number of customer transfers between the centers. After a week of analyzing procedures, we put forth our recommendation. At the end of our presentation, our boss told us he knew a solution from the get-go; he just wanted to hear the ideas we came up with when we worked as a team to solve the problem. He was pleased to find that we uncovered other possibilities he hadn't yet considered. Encouraging us to have ownership over the solution was a powerful example for me of what it means to truly trust your team.

Related: Why We Learn More from Tough Bosses

3. Lead from the back of the room.

If you're a supervisor, don't think you need to be front and center all the time. It's important to listen intently -- at least twice as often as you speak. Create an environment where all voices and ideas are heard, and most importantly, give your team room to spread their wings. For example, if they did the work, they should present the results.

By doing this, you can serve as your employees' guide, instead of dictating their every move. Let the team lead themselves and be willing to accept mistakes or failures. This will encourage risk taking and help your employees learn how to manage similar challenges in the future.

4. Set a broad vision.

Servant leadership isn't about being the nice guy; it's about delivering great results. Anyone who's worked with me will tell you I have high standards and push my team to excel. However, instead of managing each task, I inspire my team by helping them see that what they do is a critical component of a greater cause. Over the years, I found that people will work even harder if they believe in what they're doing.

Many times in my career I've been asked to lead cost-cutting projects. As you might imagine, those aren't the most popular assignments to work on. So, I always try to create a broader vision. As opposed to tasking my team with cutting costs, I ask that they look for ways to increase earnings per share enough to elevate the stock price. People are always more motivated by seeing the impacts of their work on a broader scale.

Related: How to Make Your Employees Masters, Not Just Workers

5. Develop future leaders.

One of my most important responsibilities is to develop the next generation of leaders. As it turns out, it's also what I enjoy most about my job. When I mentor someone, I ask them in return to pull five more leaders forward with them. If you don't have a mentoring program in your organization, set one up. Your employees will develop stronger relationships and share insights and skills. And the emphasis you put on their professional growth will make them feel more valued.

Practicing these behaviors will bolster your team's success and foster an environment of respect across your organization. You'll be seen as a leader, not as a boss.

Take some time to step back, assess your leadership style and look for ways to improve. Is there room for more humility? Can you relinquish some control? And are you personally invested in every employee's success?

Ask yourself these questions and then make it a priority to empower your team. Once you start "walking the walk" of servant leadership, you'll see your people shine.

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