In our increasingly disconnected and uncertain world, the values of safety and community will drive the future of business leadership. The old leadership style of profit over people was sunk in the sea of COVID. The thriving leadership of the future will embrace the best of our collective humanity — compassion, support and connection. At first glance, these values may seem out of place in the business world, but research is showing that these values create a deep sense of purpose, engagement and safety.
These values are also building blocks for something else that we are all deeply attracted to: village life. For thousands of years humans flourished in collaborative villages centered around common work and mutual care. I believe our best future can be found in the emotionally intelligent servant leadership principles of what I call “the village mindset.” Here are three ways to use it in your company.
1. Empower employees through servant leadership
Robert Greenleaf, the author of the original book on servant leadership, wrote, “The best leaders are clear. They continually light the way, and in the process, let each person know what they do makes a difference. The best test as a leader is: Do those served grow as persons, do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become leaders?”
Sounds simple enough, right? But this is a monumental shift for many leaders who lead with ego and a focus on personal gain. The best example of a servant leader is one who assumes personal risk while sharing the communal benefits. A lot of leaders assume the benefits without sharing the risk. That’s a trait that drives many employees away.
Legendary Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, known as Coach K, is a great example of this. He didn’t create the player empowerment movement, but he certainly capitalized on it the most. Twenty years ago, hard-nosed coaches won championships by creating a program-first system that focused on the coach and the program. But Coach K realized that putting full attention on the success of the player would give the team the best chance of winning. Players, like employees, will do what is best for them and will follow leaders who give them the most benefit. Coach K did this brilliantly. The results speak for themselves: Championship banners hanging from the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Employees want to work for leaders who will use their resources, networks, experience and vision to help them succeed and advance in their careers and lives. That’s what servant leadership is all about. Simply put, it is the most powerful form of leadership in the world because it gives people the very thing their brains are desperately seeking: safety.
Servant leadership that focuses on employee empowerment helps people feel seen, known and valued. It also creates the holy grail of workplace culture: belonging. According to studies done by BetterUp, when an employee feels a sense of belonging at work, productivity skyrockets, engagement increases, turnover decreases, stress lowers and businesses with highly engaged employees report 21% higher profits. Belonging is the fuel that will take your company to the next level.
2. Create a village communication system
Offer support by establishing communication structures that I call Platinum Rule communication (as opposed to Golden Rule communication). Here, we communicate with our employees in ways they value instead of just in ways we value.
For example, many on our team thrive when their work is appreciated. Taking a moment to express gratitude for a specific job they’ve recently accomplished and telling them how it has benefited you as a leader can create deep levels of engagement.
3. Intentionally build village connections
We can build connections by facilitating intentional opportunities for our employees to connect with other employees both inside and outside our company structures. A rising trend for companies in the next five years will be to establish a new executive role called the chief connection officer. This person’s only purpose will be to create and facilitate personal connection opportunities for their team.
But connection can also be as simple as sharing a small element about your personal life over a quick coffee break moment or at a team meeting. People want to be connected with you, and small gestures of vulnerability can go a long way.
Creating a sense of empowerment, support and connection help employees feel seen, known and valued. It can also build trust, expand opportunity and increase respect. This can provide the psychological safety that employees are craving in a post-COVID world.
Build a village mindset for success
We all are facing a new reality in employee engagement, but the good news is this: We can change. We have the skillset and the strength to do things differently than they’ve been done before. When we realize that, then this new reality of employee empowerment will actually make our companies more profitable, increase our influence as leaders and create a deep sense of employee belonging. Combining servant leadership and a village mindset is a win/win for everyone. The leaders who capture this now will usher in the leadership of the future.
Jason Butler has more than 20 years of leadership experience as an executive director and business entrepreneur and now serves as a keynote speaker and consultant helping executive leaders increase their servant leadership capacity and strengthen their culture of belonging. The author of “The Village Mindset,” he lives in Raleigh, N.C., with his partner Andrea, their seven kids, and loves to ride his Harley, skydive and eat Carolina BBQ.