We’ve been reading a lot lately about quiet quitting—people doing their job every day but performing only the tasks required and nothing more. Many folks are saying it’s a sign of the times—but I’m not so sure.
In 2012, our company hosted a live-streamed event entitled Quit and Stayed. At the time, we described the problem as employees being “checked out”—doing the bare minimum to collect a paycheck and unwilling to use discretionary energy for the benefit of the organization. More than 50 speakers participated in this four-hour live stream, and we had more than 5,000 registered viewers from 70 countries. We were proud of hosting a successful event but concerned to learn how widespread the problem was.
So quiet quitting is nothing new, and it’s a global dilemma. But what can be done about it? Organizations can’t terminate everyone who is disengaged—Gallup’s 2022 survey shows that the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged workers in the US is now less than 2:1—that’s one-third of your workforce. Besides, the burden of solving this problem doesn’t fall on the people who are disengaged. It falls on leaders, no matter what the level. So, as a leader, how can you help your people feel motivated to care more about their job, their goals, their performance, and their growth?
Servant Leadership Is the AnswerThroughout my 50 years working with leaders in organizations, I have found that people are far more likely to remain with a company when they have a manager they can trust—someone who cares about them, recognizes their efforts, and wants to help them grow and succeed. That’s a servant leader.
Servant leadership is not about letting your people make all the decisions or trying to please everyone. It’s not a religious movement or a trendy new management technique. It is a way of life for those with servant hearts. In organizations run by trusted servant leaders, serving others becomes the norm. The byproducts are better leadership, better service, a higher performing organization, and more success and significance.
We’ve all heard the adage: “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” I believe the reason it is such a well-quoted phrase is because it is true in a majority of cases. After all, why would someone want to stay in a job where they don’t feel valued by their manager?
Servant leaders act in ways that inspire trust. They are there to bring out the best in their people and help them develop and grow in their roles. Servant leaders put their team members’ needs ahead of their own. When people believe their leader has their back and is there to support them in achieving their goals, trust grows by leaps and bounds. Servant leadership and trust go hand in hand.
Get to Know Your Team MembersIf you are not already having regular one-on-one meetings with your people, start this week. Meeting for just 15 to 30 minutes every week with each person will go a long way toward letting them know you care. If you are thinking “I don’t have time for that,” please consider this scenario: Someone might be considering a job offer from another company. Hearing you say (perhaps for the first time), “Tell me how you feel about your work,” or “Is there anything you need from me?” or even “How are you doing?” could be all the reason they need for deciding to stay.
In between one-on-one meetings, pay attention to your team. If you notice that someone seems unusually tired, withdrawn, or uncommunicative, show them that you have their best interests at heart by reaching out to help. Ask them what they need, listen to their answers, and work together toward a solution.
Creating trusting relationships with your people can be as easy as a short conversation every week. Let them know their value to you, your team, and the company. The only way they know you care is if you show them—by getting to know them.
Simple Truths of Servant Leadership and TrustMost of my writings and leadership philosophies can be traced back to simple truths relating to servant leadership. This year, I wrote a book with trust expert (and longtime colleague) Randy Conley titled Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust . I’d like to share two of the simple truths from the book that will help you see why I believe servant leadership is not only the best way to lead people in today’s world but also the best way to keep your team members engaged.
Simple Truth #13: “You get from people what you expect.”
When people don’t understand what their leaders expect of them, they feel lost. They have no compass, no boundaries, and no agreed-upon standards of conduct to follow. They’re not sure how to please their boss, how to behave around their teammates, or what a good job looks like. All they can do is wait for someone to tell them what to do and how to do it. (Note from Ken: Sound familiar?)
As a servant leader who works side by side with your team members, you must let your people know exactly what you expect from them. This gives them a mental picture of how to be successful under your leadership.
But expectations aren’t just about words—they are also about you modeling the behaviors you expect. You must walk your talk, or your words are meaningless. Communicating your expectations gives your people confidence and clarity about what a good job looks like.
Making common sense common practice: For example, suppose you tell your people that your expectations of them are similar to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Describe to them in clear terms what that would look like:
- Act ethically in everything you do.
- Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated.
- Care for your teammates and cheer each other on.
Bravo! You’ve just painted a picture your people can see, feel, and apply to their daily work. These clear expectations, communicated directly to your team members, establish the standard for how you want them to consistently behave. Serve your people and help them accomplish their goals by setting the bar high and modeling the behavior you wish to see.
Simple Truth #14: “The best use of power is in service to others.”
Most new leaders are excited to have power because they feel they finally have the title and position to do things their way. But having power doesn’t guarantee cooperation from people. Leaders who think they are a big deal because of their position are at risk of losing their best people and not getting the performance they need from the ones who remain.
When I was elected president of the seventh grade, I came home from school excited to tell my parents about this achievement. My father, who retired as a rear admiral in the US Navy, had a quick reminder for me. “Congratulations, Ken. But now that you’re president, don’t use your position. Great leaders are great not because they have power but because their people trust and respect them.”
My dad knew an important principle of being a successful servant leader: People will give you their best when they trust you and know you have their backs.
Making common sense common practice: When you have a leadership position, focus not on the power that comes with the position but on the people you have an opportunity to serve. Your people will know you are there to serve, not to be served, when you do the following:
- Continually emphasize we over me.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Encourage and support people’s efforts rather than directing them.
When your people are your focus, they know they are part of a team and are motivated to give you their best efforts.
Today’s People Are Searching for Good LeadersThe proof is in: Self-serving leadership doesn’t work. With levels of trust and engagement in the workforce at record lows and continuing to decline, trusted servant leaders are the answer to today’s challenges.
People are learners. They want to keep learning and growing. They are looking for deeper purpose and meaning to meet the rapid changes happening in all of our lives. They are also looking for leaders who they can trust and believe in—leaders whose focus is on serving the greater good. Do what you can to inspire them, encourage them, and make them feel valued so they can thrive at work.
We all have a tremendous opportunity—and responsibility—to positively influence everyone we lead. Leadership is more than a job. It’s a calling. Answer the call by serving your people as a servant leader.