Today’s Leaders Need to Make Commonsense Leadership Common Practice

You can achieve both great results and great relationships with the two parts of servant leadership.

someone helping another person up a hill

With record numbers of people continuing to resign from their jobs, it’s a buyer’s market for finding and hiring the best and the brightest people. It’s tough for hiring managers and recruiters. It’s even more challenging for organizations to figure out how to keep their best people from leaving.

We hear leaders from various organizations and industries asking many of the same questions: How can we hold on to the skilled folks we have—and make them want to stay? Are people leaving companies, jobs, or managers? What are they searching for? What can we offer them that other employers can’t? How can we possibly come out ahead if the Great Resignation persists?

We’re sure companies everywhere are strategizing on the best perks, tricks, and promises they can think of to beat out their competition for top talent. But we wonder how many leaders and organizations will choose a different approach for attracting and hiring highly skilled people—revisiting and restoring the fundamental employee needs of trusted leadership, a safe work environment, and a compelling vision and values.

Leadership Principles

We’ve always believed it’s easier and more fun to lead when you keep things simple. Take a few of our favorite leadership principles:

  • The key to developing people is to catch them doing things right.
  • Don’t work harder, work smarter.
  • People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.
  • People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • The most important part of leadership is what happens when you’re not there.

And perhaps the simplest leadership tip we know: It’s not about you.

You might be thinking, “Those phrases are all just common sense. They’ve been around forever. Every leader knows what they mean and how to apply them.”

It’s true. They are all common sense. And many are classic quotes. But think about it: Do you see many of these basic leadership principles in practice around you? Do you know many leaders who talk about leadership based on caring about people, serving them, or building trust with them? Do leaders understand how powerful these and other simple leadership truths can be when applied in the workplace?

We both have been curious for some time about why the leadership principles we see as common sense are so seldom used in everyday practice. In our book, “Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust,” we submit 52 of our best-loved, time-tested canons about leadership and trust and explain them in ways that make them come to life in the workplace for the benefit of all.

Servant Leadership

Here’s an example. We believe servant leadership is the best way to achieve great results and relationships. Many leaders focus primarily on results, losing out on the benefits of creating relationships with their people. And some leaders focus primarily on people, which can get in the way of desired results. But you can achieve both great results and great relationships if you understand the two parts of servant leadership: the leadership part, which is about vision and direction—where you as the leader hope to take your people; and the servant part, which is about implementation—working side by side with people, helping them live the vision and accomplish the agreed-upon goals.

Let’s go a little deeper. Picture a pyramid. Traditional top-down leadership has the CEO at the top of the hierarchical pyramid and the front-line staff and customers at the bottom, with several levels in between. Everyone thinks they work for the people above them. As a result, all the energy in the organization moves up the hierarchy, away from the customers and workers closest to the action.

But with servant leadership in place, as soon as the vision and direction are set and understood by all, the servant leader philosophically turns the traditional pyramid upside down for implementation. Now the leaders are at the bottom, working for their people and helping them achieve their goals. The front-line workers are at the top of the pyramid with the customers, supported by leadership and trusted to bring their brains to work and make decisions in the customers’ best interests. Front-line people who are treated well and respected by their managers will treat their customers well. The happy customers will become Raving Fans of your organization, come back for more, and tell their friends.

How to Be a Trusted Servant Leader

To apply these concepts to your workplace, make common sense common practice, and be a trusted servant leader, here are some action items for you:

  • Although setting a vision and direction is ultimately the leader’s responsibility, involving some of your people in the process is a good idea.
  • After the pyramid is turned upside down, let your people know you work for them—you are there to serve, not to be served. Your job is to trust them, train them, listen to them, give feedback—then get out of their way and watch them shine!

It’s no secret that the world desperately needs a new kind of leadership. “The way we’ve always done it” is no longer working. The Great Resignation has come about partly because levels of trust and engagement in the workplace have been at record lows for decades. People are looking for deeper purpose and meaning to meet the rapid changes happening in their lives. They want leaders they can rely on and believe in, focusing on serving the greater good.

Servant leadership is not just another management technique. It is a way of life for leaders with servants’ hearts. Leaders who emphasize that serving and leading with trust is the answer to today’s challenges. When serving others becomes the norm, trust abounds. The byproducts are better leadership, better service, a higher-performing organization, and more success and significance.

Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley are co-authors of “Simple Truths of Leadership” ( Blanchard is one of the world’s most influential leadership experts. He is the co-author of more than 65 books, including the iconic “The One Minute Manager,” with combined sales of more than 23 million copies in 47 languages. In 2005, he was inducted into Amazon’s Hall of Fame as one of the top 25 best-selling authors of all time. He is co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies, a leading international training and consulting firm. Randy Conley is the vice president of Global Professional Services and Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is a founding member of the Alliance of Trustworthy Business Experts, and INC named him a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. Conley is a contributing author of three books, including “Leading at a Higher Level,” with Ken Blanchard. His award-winning blog, Leading with Trust, has influenced more than 4 million viewers since its inception in 2012.