Servant Leadership: Real Accountability Is Investing in People’s Lives

In business, accountability is often viewed as meeting quarterly goals, and other activities designed to maximize returns for stakeholders and shareholders. But there is another, deeper view of business accountability. It’s when you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and, as uncomfortable as it may be, hold yourself accountable for your behavior and how your actions impact others. As servant leaders, we are held accountable for our behavior.

I often meet CEOs who are interested in servant leadership. They usually think they’re already showing their teams that they think of others first. But when I ask them what servant leadership means to them, I usually get responses like, “we don’t have any reserved parking spaces at our company,” “we have quarterly employee gatherings to celebrate our success” or “we have training programs in a wide spectrum of subjects.”

I rarely hear how the company is investing in the lives of its employees. I rarely hear leaders talk about helping their employees through the messy unfolding of personal events that impact their performance at work.

Make an Impact on Young Adults at Work

In my keynotes, I often share why servant leadership is so important in today’s world. I talk about the “bookends” of life, with young adults at one end and those facing death at the other. Several years ago, hospice nurses were asked about working with patients who are in the last season of life. What do they talk about the most?

By far the most frequent topic of discussion is their regret that they didn’t live their lives as the people they wanted to be. They lived their lives to be the person who would be accepted by others. In our world today, we value being accepted by others — how we look or dress, and how we talk or behave. In some cases, we spend time trying to impress people we may never meet again.

At the other end of the spectrum are our young adults. Sometimes, we call them emerging leaders, Generation X or Y. There is convincing evidence today that many of those who have graduated from college and are now in the workplace are looking for a change in their work life. When asked why, they shared that they incur debt to go to college, where they’re taught how to take tests, how to dress, what to say, and how to prepare resumes — but no one asks them what they want to do, what they’re passionate about, or what their gifts are.

As leaders, we need to accept accountability for these young adults’ plights. We are not helping our employees live better lives. But, we can change this through holding ourselves accountable to new leadership behaviors.

‘Behave Your Talk’

We’ve all heard the phrase “walk your talk.” At Datron World Communications and the Servant Leadership Institute (SLI), we believe we need to change this phrase to “behave your talk” to reflect the new mindset that is necessary to change the status quo.

New behaviors put the leader in a new light, with a new level of accountability. We need help to make this change in our behaviors. We need help from those closest to us, those who know us best. Do you have an accountability partner or group? Do you ask them to hold you accountable for your behaviors? We at SLI challenge you to reflect on what type of leader you are. If you’re truly a servant leader, you’ll be accountable to someone in your life for your behavior.

When you view your role in your job and in business as being accountable to and responsible for others, you’ll have a whole new perspective. You’ll find meaning and purpose in what you do. You’ll also find your leadership motives are aligned to help others, which ultimately serves the entire organization.

It’s a journey you’ll be glad you took when you look in the mirror every day.