When the Servant Leader Journey Gets Rocky

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Have you ever gone through a rough patch in your life or leadership journey? In my mind, I can see a collective nod from all of you and a chorus of, “Are you kidding?” Of course you’ve had problems or challenges. Even servant leadership at its finest is not a smooth road because you’re dealing with people, not things. So in the midst of the struggle, here are some concrete things you can do to encourage yourself and hopefully improve the situation.

Do keep serving – When people around you just don’t respond the way you think they should, keep serving them. If you report to a difficult leader, the only way you may ever be able to influence him or her as a servant leader is to demonstrate with stellar performance or your team hitting a home run.

Do keep listening – Phrases are your friends. Two that can really help are, “tell me more” and “help me understand.” Cultivate a habit of listening more than you speak and listen to everything, even what you hear around you. You could come to a greater understanding of how other employees are feeling that could be invaluable.

Do think about your thinking – When things aren’t going well or you’re faced with a challenging situation, resist going to negative thoughts. Remember that things will change. You may find it helpful to surround yourself with positive statements that are meaningful for you. Stock up on your post-it notes and use them. Put your positive statements on them and post them around you.  

Don’t be your own punching bag – When you stumble and make a leadership mistake, remember you are human and you will make missteps. Recognizing you haven’t handled a situation as a servant leader is the first step toward changing your behavior. If you must, take five minutes to beat yourself up and then stop it. Focus on apologizing and moving forward. A sincere apology will help your team remember that we all need a little grace. 

Servant leadership is not soft. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do when it comes to leading people, but it is also the most rewarding as you see people achieve great things together. When the difficult days come, keep serving, listening, and thinking positively — and oh yes, do it from the heart with grace toward everyone, even yourself.