Persuasion: Character of a Servant Leader (Servant Leadership #4)

In this blog, I gave an introduction to the concept of Servant leadership. A servant leader serves to lead. Servant Leadership is about the attitude of a leader toward the people he/she leads and serves. In order to explore how to implement servant leadership in daily operation, we start to discuss characters of a servant leader.

We have talked about the vision of a servant leader. A good leader sees a need and try to meet that need. Then we talked about listening. A good leader listens to the people, so that they feel that they are understood and start to trust the leader. This time we will explore the idea of persuasion.

So, a good leader has a clear vision, he/she is passionate about the vision and convinced that the vision heads in the right direction, but the leader listens to the people and try to understand different opinions, and the leader persuades them to join in.

However, persuasion sometimes got a bad name. Some equate persuasion to manipulation, like a bad salesperson tries to persuade the customer by giving less than truthful information. But those are bad persuasion. A good leader persuade by giving true information and skillful communication. Persuasion is actually influence achieved by good communication. Now, how do we do that?

A good leader start not with communication skills, but with credibility. A good leader build up his credibility. When the leader is trusted by the people, it will be easy to persuade them. A leader can build credibility by competency and by character.

It is just like finding a doctor when you move to a new city. You obviously will try to find a doctor that is qualified, experienced and capable. However, to many of us, that is not enough! We also want to find a doctor that is honest and genuinely cares for us. We trust someone who is both capable and with noble characters. A leader is a good leader when he practices what he teaches, does not shy away from difficult situations, behaves consistently and transparently, and leads by example.

When people start to trust you, you can persuade them by giving them information and reasons. This is the easiest part of persuasion, most leaders know how to do it. Just a reminder though, only share relevant information, and keep your presentation short, interesting and compelling. To do that, you need to know your audience well. But it's not enough to give people reasons, especially if we are asking people to change their habits or to take risk. We need to stir them into action, we need something powerful to push them away from their comfort zone.

That powerful thing is our emotions. Think of a charity you gave last time. Why did you donate to them? Perhaps you know someone related to it, that connection motivates you. Or there is a picture, a video clip, a story that motivates you to give. You have all the reasons to give to charity, but you end up giving only to a selected few. So, a good leader is a person people are willing to trust, a good leader presents all the reasoning in a captivating way, but at the end of the day, emotional connection is the key to persuasion.

Finally, a servant leader persuades slightly differently from a traditional leader. A servant leader persuades people to join him, but he is not proud, he is not self-centred, his goal is to serve, not to make a name for himself. People can feel that the attitude is different. He may say something like these or he may simply embody these in their actions and decisions:

“I saw a need and I want to meet that need in the best way.”

“I know a way, it may be a good way, because…”

“Let me know if you have a better way.”

“It’s not about me, it’s about meeting the need.”

In our next post, we will talk about growth. How a servant leader helps people grow as they work under his/her leadership.

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