An excellent blog post from Tony Schwartz on Harvard Business Review encouraged us to write about successful leaders in organizations that are building a service culture.

Leaders must inspire action. Building a service culture is a strategic, long-term initiative that requires sustained focus and commitment. We apply Tony’s list of four “great capacities” of leadership to describe the actions service leaders must take to achieve great results.

Capacity #1: Great leaders recognize strengths in us that we don’t always yet fully see in ourselves.

Leadership Action:

  • Ensure your organization recruits new employees based on service attributes in addition to skills and experience. Successfully building – and strengthening – a service culture requires people who have the qualities of a ‘service mindset’.
  • Consistently recognize and reward the actions that teams and employees take to create value for customers. You are asking the whole organization to innovate and improve through taking action – you must recognize and encourage efforts in the right direction, especially when mistakes are made along the way.

Capacity #2: Rather than simply trying to get more out of us, great leaders seek to understand and meet our needs, above all a compelling mission beyond our immediate self-interest, or theirs.

Leadership Action:

  • Craft and consistently communicate an engaging Service Vision for your organization. Be sure everyone knows the ‘bigger promise’ their department – and their individual actions – will help deliver. A powerful service vision breaks down silos.
  • Drive a new understanding of “service” – it is not just to “customers” or only in “business”, and definitely not “servile”. As Tony says, “too few leaders take the time to figure out what they truly stand for, beyond the bottom line”.

Capacity #3: Great leaders take time to clearly define what success looks like and then empower and trust us to figure out the best way to achieve it.

Leadership Action:

  • Identify the results you want and clearly define what success looks like for your organization when you have built a vibrant and successful service culture. What does this mean for customers? What does this mean for the organization? What does this mean for employees? for partners, distributors and suppliers? What will your organization be like as a workplace?

Capacity #4: The best of all leaders – a tiny fraction – have the capacity to embrace their own opposites, most notably vulnerability alongside strength, and confidence balanced by humility.

Leadership Action:

  • Leaders demonstrate that leadership is also service. Serve and support your managers in building a service culture – make them a powerful network that communicates up and down and throughout the organization rather than a middle layer that retards transformation.
  • Role-model behavior that shows it is “ok” to make mistakes. Employees will be empowered and encouraged to keep taking new actions to create value for others, even when mistakes do occur.