The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “What’s the key to great leadership?” is written by Tonya Love, integration and operations executive at Xerox Services.
Great leaders don’t just lead. They serve.
Former General Electric (GE) CEO Jack Welch wrote in his book, Winning: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
Some call this “servant leadership,” and there are plenty of articles and books about it. But no matter what you call it, I believe great leaders understand the roles that trust, respect, and authenticity play in managing people and projects.
In my 18 years at Xerox (XRX), I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to stretch and train my own leadership muscles. And in practicing it in various positions as a female engineer, I’ve learned a few tips along the way:
Be transparent and relatable
Earlier in my Xerox career, I was assigned to manage an innovation team in Grenoble, France. As an American leading a group from a different culture in a different country, I knew I needed to step back and listen. But I was surprised in team meetings when some of the team members didn’t speak up with their concerns. So I began offering one-on-one discussions, which helped me be more transparent and relatable in sharing my own work-related experiences—the good and the bad. This, in effect, helped my team feel more comfortable in confidently speaking up about their concerns and career growth opportunities. By taking a servant leadership style, I was able to more accurately address the needs of my team so we could succeed together.
Put the needs of others before your own
At one point in my career, I was managing a team that was working on a color correction sensor. They worked tirelessly to get the sensor up and running in a short turnaround time. But due to unexpected expenses, the project was at risk of losing funding. As I thought about the market need and the talented resources working extremely hard on the technology, I worked around the clock to find an alternative channel for funding. Once secured, the team delivered the technology on time within planned schedule.
I knew that the team deserved to see the project through to completion, so I made it a top priority, spending a great number of hours—nights and weekends—to quickly come up with a creative way to finance the project. Then I had a number of internal meetings to garner the necessary support to enable us to implement the financing and save the project.
By putting the needs of the team before my own, the team was rewarded for their extraordinary efforts and dedication as the color sensor was delivered to our customers and actually won several industry awards.
Empower your people
In 2000, I created a nonprofit mentorship program for teen girls and worked with them for over 10 years. I discovered that mentorship is not dictating, but is more about guiding and coaching. During our time together, I looked for opportunities that allowed them to discover who they were, find out what their passions and interests were, and to inspire each other in the process. We went on college tours, I helped them explore other cities by taking them on field trips, I showed them how to fill out college applications, and I coached them through difficult decision-making processes. We talked about time management, staying true to values, and envisioning the future.
Later in my own career, I was able to leverage similar techniques by mentoring and empowering my own employees—coaching them rather than dictating.
As you seek your own leadership style, look for ways to exercise your servant leader muscles. Realize that there will be bumps in the road, as everyone makes mistakes. However, as I apply these and other servant leadership principals, I have found that I authentically lead teams, challenging them to high standards of performance, quality, and values—while accomplishing great things.