The Paradox of Servant Leadership

Why Care, Compassion, and Accountability Are Engaging

Photo by Cam Bradford on Unsplash

I’m always reflecting upon service. It’s always been a big part of my life. I started out in the “service industry” at 16, and never, really, ever looked back.

What I’ve been reflecting upon even more recently, is just how important service is in, well, everything we do. It’s not just about the work we do, in the professional sense.

It’s more about all of the work we do. All of it. And, it starts with each of us, and how we take care of and, in effect, serve ourselves. Really.

I was telling a colleague of mine today, as they prepared to train a group of local leadership, that in order to hold other people accountable, we must first hold ourselves accountable. It’s how it works.

Something this colleague knows very well indeed.

And, as was aforementioned, service is no exception to this rule. In order to serve others, we must first learn to serve ourselves.

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We are all looking for places to serve. Places where we can make a difference, where we can be a part of something larger than ourselves. A paradox? Yep.

Because in order to be a part of something larger than yourself, you must first be in touch with yourself, know yourself, treat yourself with love and kindness, and hold yourself accountable to a standard.

A standard that is engaged with and committed to creating and effecting change. Changing that which we know, the status quo, with something, well, quite different.

Within this possibility, there are innumerable opportunities to serve. Fun.

Alright, ready? Good. Here we go.

Servant Leadership

I’ve written a couple of articles about servant leadership, which includes, The Blog + Video Series #14: Servant Leadership: A Practical Leadership Style for Life and Work.

The basic tenant of servant leadership is that service is paramount to leadership as a philosophy and a practice. Both.

That to lead, we must lead from a perspective that fully understands that nothing happens without the entire team; and, that, it is because of each team members contribution to the team that movement and traction are even possible.

Servant leadership upends the traditional leadership hierarchy, putting the needs of front-line workers first. Important.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

And, as we’ve already discussed, servant leadership is, both conceptually and practically, a leadership style that works for all aspects of life.

When we take care of ourselves and lead from within, we can then take care of others and lead from without. If not, well, true leadership of any kind is impossible.

Sometimes there is confusion about servant leadership.

Meaning that people sometimes connect servant leadership to a laissez faire type context. And, servant leadership both conceptually and practically is far from that type of context.

In fact, a servant leadership context will often be full of standards and expectations that are higher than other leadership contexts. Yep. Common. Why?

Well, inside of serving, as was aforementioned, is the need to create change. Creating new possibilities, new ways of communicating, new ways of, well, doing most things.

When you create a context that is committed to changing the status quo, no matter how small or large that change is, there have to be higher standards and expectations.

And, in some cases, the highest standard must be demanded. Why?

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Because there is so much more to accomplish. That’s it really. More work, more movement, more traction, more change. Amazing.

And, where there is change and innovation of this magnitude, there must be great care, compassion, and accountability, both for the self, the team, and the organization. And, yep, for the nation, and the world too.

Care

What is engagement, really? When you think about that word, what do you see, or think about? Hm.

For me, I think about contexts that are brimming with challenges and difficulties, yep, and celebrations. Why?

Because when you are truly engaged with yourself, and the people around you, you will experience both. You have to.

Being engaged, is living a full life, and the giving out of that life to everyone around you. It is extremely fun and rewarding and, yep, also difficult.

All service, regardless of the context, professional or personal, requires determination, persistence, and resilience. Oh, and great care. Yep.

When you are engaged, you care. Simple. Oftentimes, people get confused and think that when things are difficult that there is a problem. A paradox? Yep.

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When things are difficult, you are engaged, you are doing, and you are creating. No problem here.

When are there problems?

Well, if you subscribe to notions of problems, then the only time there are real problems is when there is disengagement. Where things are easy, moving simply, no speed bumps. Why?

Because, if there are no issues, nothing to overcome, then, nothing is really happening. Yep.

Now, that’s not really a problem either. Not really.

It’s only a problem if you are looking to be engaged. I always know when I am most engaged at work or in my life. How?

Because there is always, and I mean always, something to celebrate, and something to overcome. A challenge, always.

These engaging contexts also require, as was aforementioned, great care. Really. Why?

Because when you are fully engaged, and are working through issues that arise, care about all things and everyone, yourself, and all those around you, is always there.

And, that is because you are going through something.

You are developing, iterating, and, yep, in some cases, even transforming. Beautiful.

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Compassion

Because a servant leadership context is a highly engaging one, where people will bring their all every day, compassion is also required.

Compassion for yourself, for how very, very hard it is sometimes, and for those around you. Sometimes, people will decide it’s just too much, and that is okay.

There was a time when I desperately wanted everyone to stay. And, I would coach people endlessly to this end. No pun intended.

Yet, a servant leadership context is not what everyone is looking for, and that is also okay. Knowing this releases you and everyone else from an obligation that truly doesn’t exist.

And, practicing compassion is what that looks like. Understanding that people will leave. And, guess what?

It’s better for them to do so.

Better to find a context that suits them more, feels better to them, and will in the long run be much more beneficial for them. Important.

Accountability

One of the most paradoxical aspects of servant leadership is in the area of accountability. And, there was a time where accountability within a servant leadership paradigm also confused me.

The bottom line?

Accountability matters. People actually want to be held accountable to a higher standard. Knowing that their work and service, whatever it is, is making a change in the world.

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

Again, no matter how small or large that change is, matters much less, than that people get to participate in something that, yes, inspires them, and, even more importantly, actively creates change in the world. Fun.

It is a ton of work. Yep. Yet, who ever said that life was supposed to be easy?

I know. That is such a cliche, and yet it does work here.

Think about any change, nay, think about some of the largest institutional and cultural changes of all time. Now, answer this question.

Were they easy?

Nope, not a single one. They are not supposed to be. Therefore, having a high standard and instituting accountability is not only needed, it is also positively reinforcing the servant leadership context that has been created. How?

Because serving yourself, setting the highest standard for yourself that you can, means that you will also set that same standard for the people around you. And?

They will rise to meet it, just as you are.

For more on Servant Leadership check out these resources.

#accountabilityandleadership, #careandleadership, #compassionandleadership, #creatingchange, #humandevelopment, #leadership, #leadershipdevelopment, #selfdevelopment, #selfimprovement, #servantleadership, #teamdevelopment

The Blog + Video Series #14: Servant Leadership: A Practical Leadership Style for Life and Work

Of all the leadership styles and choices, why choose Servant Leadership? Well, there are many reasons, some of which we will explore in this post, and some in future posts. Let’s get this conversation started by taking a look at Servant Leadership as a principle. In this post, we will also explore Servant Leadership as a practical tool, and as a way of being, or living our life.

The Principles of Servant Leadership

There are many principles of Servant Leadership. Service is the foundation of all the rest, and is the fundamental basis for this leadership style. In order to serve others, one must serve themselves first. This is where it all starts.

Service to the Self

In order to be an effective leader, one must understand their own growth opportunities, and actively work on them. Service to others, starts with this understanding. More, it means being open to critique and feedback from others on areas that you have opportunities to develop.

As a leader, one of your main objectives is to develop those that work for you, and with you. Likewise, you must start by developing yourself in all areas, those that you know about, and those you don’t. The latter are called blind spots, and the team you work with, once a safe and trusting environment is created, will point them out to you.

If you defend yourself and make justifications for these blind spots, you will not grow. And, if you are closed to growth opportunities, your team will also be closed. If your team is closed to growth, you will not gain traction in your business model, or you will only gain traction to a point. You will not go further into that unknown area of growth that most teams never reach.

Accepting our blind spots, and actively creating opportunities to develop skills in those areas will create more trust with your team. Additionally, you will show them that you have the ability to be vulnerable and authentic, which are two more very important principles of being a Servant Leader.

Service to the Team

Many leadership styles depend on the typical organizational hierarchy, where the leaders sit at the top of the pyramid, and look down on the rest of the staff. Effectively, pushing out and down directions, without much dialogue from the team about the effectiveness of such directives.

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Distribution Property Solutions, Inc.

Servant Leadership turns that pyramid upside down, which means that front line staff are, in effect at the top of the hierarchy and in a position to effect change within the organization. It means that leaders do provide direction to staff, yet do so in a way that encourages, even demands, reciprocal dialogue and conversation.

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Distribution Property Solutions, Inc.

Implementing an approach that encourages reciprocal dialogue and conversation requires a willingness from leaders to realize that they do not, could not, have all the answers. It also requires an understanding that the leaders primary job is serving and developing the team.

As with service to the self, leaders must remain open to serving their teams in the same way, implementing the same types of techniques, which we will explore more in future posts.

The Servant Leadership model also requires leaders to develop the ability to pull people to them, and push people into action when necessary. Though, of the two, the former is the more important aspect of the Servant Leadership model, leaders must also have the fortitude to hold themselves, and the people they work with accountable to rigorous standards and expectations.

Servant Leadership as a Way of Being

Servant Leadership is a leadership style that can be used in all aspects of your life, from relationships with friends and family, to service activities within the community. As a way of being, Servant Leadership requires an understanding that relationships are everything.

Relationships start with the one you have with yourself. Once that relationships is healthy and strong, you are ready to develop high-quality relationships with those around you, and throughout the community. It is impossible to develop healthy, high-quality, relationships with others until you are clear on the relationships you have with yourself.

Servant leadership principles can be utilized in all contexts, because these principles, some of which we have explored here, are simple and pragmatic. These principles are about practice, and the necessity of respecting, honoring, and celebrating yourself and all of those around you.

Leading is something that people do in all walks and aspect of life. And, Servant Leadership is a leadership style, that I believe, is uniquely adaptable to all of these contexts. It is also unique in that it puts the development of the self first, with an understanding that developing yourself is a necessary ingredient to the eventual development of others, whether those others be those in your personal or professional contexts.

References

Greenleaf, Robert K. (2020). The Robert K Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. What is Servant Leadership. URL.

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Photo by Riccardo Annandale

#businessshange, #leadership, #leadershipdevelopment, #leadershipessentials, #leadershipmindset, #leadershipprinciples, #leadershipvalues, #organizationalchange, #organizationaldevelopment, #servantleadership, #servicetotheself, #servicetotheteam, #teamdevelopment

Maintaining Motivation Inside of Innovation: An Investigation and Invitation

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Photo by Peter Fogden on Unsplash

A different kind of post today. I am interested in investigating how it is that teams continue to stay motivated, at the individual, and team level, during times of great change and innovation. Have you ever made this consideration? Yes, no? Here is how I began to consider the topic.

COVID-19 has created contexts in teams, businesses, and organizations that have required great strides in innovation. Innovation that is continuous. Every day. Making choices about how to continue to pivot your business model, to keep up the momentum, stay relevant, and remain sustainable. We’ve been inside such a context, much, I’m sure, like you have.

Then about two weeks ago, we had a team assignment connected to the department’s disruption BHAG, which I wrote about in, One BHAG, Two BHAG, and Creating a Disruption Vision . The assignment was to create our top three priorities for July. Why only July? Because, as was aforementioned, the amount, scale, and speed of change right now is so great, creating priorities for more than 30-days seems unreasonable.

During that time, one of our team members asked this question.

How do you maintain motivation inside of innovation? A wonderful question.

It is inside of this question that we will do two things.

  1. Investigate how to continue to create motivation, inside of vast amounts of change and innovation.
  2. Invite you to respond with your thoughts, ideas, and best practices.

We have, then, an investigation, and an invitation. Ready? Let’s go.

First, I have questions. Here are a few that will guide our investigation.

  1. Where does individual motivation come from?
  2. Where does the team’s motivation come from?
  3. What does the larger institution, organization, or business have to do with individual and team motivation, and morale?
  4. What strategies can leaders deploy to ensure that each individual team member and the team as a whole stays motivated during great change?
  5. What is the responsibility of each individual team member when considering motivation inside of innovation?

1. Where does motivation come from?

Though many people look for motivation in things that live outside of themselves, motivation actually comes from within. You become motivated by doing things. For instance, if you want to become more organized or organized differently, you must try new things. Put a new system in place, and practice it. If it works, awesome, if not, try something new.

When we actually practice that which we want to become better at, motivation will arise inside of that practice. In this example, becoming more organized happens as we practice and learn about how to better organize ourselves.

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Photo by Allie on Unsplash

2. Where does the team’s motivation come from?

From a psychological perspective, each individual contributes their individual motivation to the collective team. And, from a sociological perspective, the collective team motivation is an output of those individual motivations. The leader of that team must then direct both the individual and team motivation toward the vision, goals, objectives, and priorities.

However, I think it important to remember that when priorities change often inside of creating new business models and learning about new ways to do business, motivation can become precarious. Not necessarily because people are unmotivated, though that is also possible. More, I think it has something to do with just how much work it takes to continue to pivot your business. Again, and again.

3. What does the larger institution, organization, or business have to do with individual and team motivation, and morale?

For me, the answer to this question is rather simple. Whether it happens or not, may not be as simple. All people that work within an organization need to understand, have access to, and be able to connect their individual work to the larger institutional vision. Important.

When these connections can be made, there is more cohesion, and the possibility of motivation remaining higher. We must also remember, however, that there will be varying levels of motivation inside of the institution, organization, or business, dependent on how each team leads their work. There will be differences.

These differences can affect motivation and morale when people cannot see themselves inside of the vision. When creating new visions during times of great change and innovation, these visions should connect to the larger vision. Also important, people need to see themselves inside of these visions.

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Photo by Rahul Bhosale on Unsplash

4. What strategies can leaders deploy to ensure that each individual team member and the team as a whole stays motivated during great change?

Difficult, as leaders may also be struggling with their own motivation during times of great change. Yet, there are things leaders can do for themselves, and their teams to keep motivation present for people. All the while recognizing that there will be times when people are unmotivated. That is also okay. It’s part of the human process.

What things can you do to stay motivated, and to keep the team motivated.
  • Create a new vision – when things are changing on such a vast scale, creating new ways to conceptualize your work is critical. If people continue to do their work just like they did before, which may not work, motivation may remain elusive.
  • Be flexible – flexibility goes hand in hand with adaptability. You must be flexible to adapt to changing situations, no matter how small or large they are. Be open.
  • Listen – understanding how each person is doing on the team is very important. And, you must listen well to really know how they are doing. You need to create individual time with people, and listen.
  • Provide feedback – honest and direct feedback is helpful. We all need to know that we are heading in the right direction, and when we are not, to be guided back. If you lead teams, your team can also do that for you. Important to have that reciprocal relationship.

5. What is the responsibility of each individual team member when considering motivation inside of innovation?

There is really only one thing I want to write about in this area; and that is about Communication. Communicating with each other often by telling each other how things are going, where changes or adjustments are needed, when we are feeling unmotivated, or especially motivated is extremely important. I cannot overstate this fact.

When there are communication breakdowns, people have limited sight on what is happening and understanding of what is known. And, when there are limitations on what people know, people will fill in that gap with what they believe is happening.

Typically, however, the stories that are generated to fill these gaps are incomplete. And, they are only so, because people don’t have all of the information they need.

Communication is one of the most important principles to practice at any time on a team; and now, during COVID-19, it is even more important. Staying connected, and in good communication with your team is essential to maintaining motivation inside of innovation.

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Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Closing

Alright, there is an investigation into motivation inside of innovation. I believe that the investigation has yielded a few possible insights, so let’s capture them again here.

  1. Motivation comes from within ourselves – motivation does not live inside of concepts or objects in the outside world.
  2. The team’s motivation is individual and collective – team motivation comes from each individual’s contribution and the teams combined motivation, which are guided by the leader.
  3. Motivation, vision, and morale – individuals must be able to see themselves inside of the overall vision, and visions need to be connected. Remember also, motivation will go up and down, and that is okay.
  4. Leadership strategies – create a new vision, be flexible, listen well, and provide feedback.
  5. Responsibility and motivation – communicate, communicate, communicate. Important.

Now for the fun part.

My invitation

I am inviting each of you to contribute to this post. I would like to know from your perspective, how do you, or how do you plan to maintain motivation inside of innovation. You can use the questions that were used to guide this post, or you can use the ones that follow.

Here are some questions for you to consider?

  • What strategies do you use to maintain motivation for yourself and your team?
  • What strategies have worked well in maintaining motivation on your team?
  • What other strategies have you not yet tried that you plan to implement soon to increase motivation for yourself and your team?
  • What strategies did not work as well, and why?
  • What other insights do you have to share about motivation and innovation?

Okay, there we have it. An investigation and invitation in how to maintain motivation inside of innovation. Was fun.

#businessdevelopment, #creatingstrategy, #creatingvision, #employeemorale, #innovation, #leadershipdevelopment, #leadershipinaction, #leadershipstrategies, #motivation, #motivationfromwithin, #organizationaldevelopment, #responsibilityandmotivation, #servantleadership, #strategicplanning, #strategicthinking, #teamdevelopment, #teammoral

Leadership in Practice Series Part 1: Getting into Action, Keeping Relationships Strong, and Iterating Your Business Model to Stay Relevant During COVID-19

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Photo by Ambitious Creative Co. – Rick Barrett on Unsplash

I’ve written about leadership on this site a few times, so I’m doing something new over the next few days. I’ll be posting some articles I’ve written on leadership. New content on this site, and a conversation that is relevant and important right now. Enjoy. 🙂

Leadership in Practice Series Part 1

What do leaders do when everything they’ve prepared themselves and their teams for is suddenly, within hours, less relevant than ever before? Less relevant as a massive health pandemic, COVID-19, crosses the Atlantic Ocean and shows up in the United States. Not sure? Though I’ve lived it for these past three months, I’m not sure either. So, let’s take a look at what happened, and some of what I’ve learned these past three months.

COVID-19 Takes Root Locally

In early March I received an ominous email from by boss, which read something like this: if the College suddenly needs to close with little to no notice, what is your plan to continue service? Wait, what? At the time, I was admittedly ignorant about the scope of the COVID-19 health crisis in the United States, and the speed at which the virus was making its way towards the West Coast. What to do?

Well, I acted as I would have under any other circumstance. I sent the team the query, gave them a due date for feedback, which was extremely short, and gathered the information. I then rolled the information up into a document to share with my boss. We did this all within 48 hours.

I’ll be the first to admit that the plan was extremely basic, as our business model is one that requires, at least I thought so then, an in-person experience. Within two weeks of creating that plan, we found out that the College was going completely online to finish the Winter Term. Because, at the time, we did not have online or remote classes or training, we cancelled the last week of Winter Term to ensure the safety of our students and clients.

Get this. You are in your third term of the academic year, you just cancelled the last week of the term, and you are actively registering for spring, which is typically the strongest term of the year. And, your sales volume is up about 30% over the previous year. Now what do you do?

Get Into Action and Start Creating

In the next two weeks, it became very clear that the College would also be completely online and remote for Spring Term. What did we do? We started creating.

Here are some of the things we did.

  • We emailed all 200 instructors and asked if they would teach their in-person class remotely – note, at the time we had no systems or processes in place to offer these classes.
  • We moved all of our Professional Development on-campus training to Fall Term.
  • We communicated with all of our instructors, clients, partners, and students, letting them know about the College’s direction. We also inquired with other Colleges as to their plans, which was a very helpful decision. It gave us sight that other Colleges were also going remote, if they had the capability and financing.
  • We created an operations plan out of thin air. Here are a few examples of that plan.
    • Daily remote operations check-in’s.
    • Remote one-with-one’s as needed.
    • Twice-a-week remote registration staff meetings.
    • Weekly remote all-staff department meetings.
    • Bi-weekly program meetings.
    • Each staff member identified their top three remote work priorities.
  • We created many new processes, which included new ways to:
    • Register students and clients
    • Interact with all of our instructors, and clients
    • Track student enrollment
    • Process payment
    • Engage and market our products and services to the community

The point is, we did not sit back and wait for someone to explain the “how to” of the COVID-19 health crisis. There is no such thing. There never was, and never will be. You create on the fly, you do the best you can, and you serve.

You create possibilities where none ever existed before. You listen to your team, and to every idea they have. And, you take action on the best ones – the ones with the most impact.

You also continue to foster, and grow the team, which ensures you are continuing to grow the relationships with your instructors, students, and clients – those relationships are everything.

Keeping Relationships Strong

I’ve always said that relationships are everything. Really, they are. Nothing happens without high-quality relationships. Nothing. Everything is predicated on the strength of the relationships you have with those around you. However, working and living inside of the COVID-19 health crisis has taken my thinking and belief that relationships are everything to another level entirely.

Let’s take a look at a couple of the things we did to ensure that our relationships stayed strong during this most uncertain time.

  • Continue Creating Safety
    • Your team must feel safe to pursue the unknown with you. I believe this is true all the time, yet when your entire business model gets thrown out the window by a pandemic, and everyone is also concerned about their own physical safety, it is even more true. Having and continuing to create safety for your team is of utmost importance.
  • Create Even More Consistency and Structure
    • Another thing that was/is important, is the ability to create structure and consistency. When you are living in a highly unstable time, where change happens sometimes on a daily basis (hourly even), creating a consistent operations communication plan is critical. People must be able to depend on regularity, especially with so much uncertainty.
  • Create New Ways to Engage With Your Clients and Students
    • When we learned that the print schedule, which lists all of our experiential classes, was irrelevant, as all the in-person classes advertised were now in the process of being converted to remote classes, or were being cancelled, we pivoted and created a new digital schedule format. We then created processes to ensure we were collecting information needed, to digitally communicate with our students.

Now, let’s take a look at a couple of things you can do when your current business model, which was functioning well, is no longer relevant.

Recreating and Iterating Your Business Model

As was aforementioned, when COVID-19 began locally, our business model was functioning well, yet would become irrelevant if we did not act quickly. Here are a couple of the things we did to stay relevant.

  • Let Go of What Worked in the Past
    • One of the things we recognized very early on, was that we would have to create several entirely new business models – and, that work continues today. It can be hard to let go of a business model that is profitable. You must, however, when you are faced with a situation where that business model is no longer relevant or sustainable. If you don’t, your competition will pass right by you, and you will be out of business.
  • Create New Business Models that Fit the Current Reality
    • When we began to pivot our business models, we created on the fly, and, as was aforementioned, got all of our instructors into the conversation very early. Having strong relationships with our more than 200 instructors created the possibility that we could begin to deliver remote classes, something we had never done before.
  • Continue to Iterate the Business Models as Needed
    • We continued to iterate the business models as needed, and have continued to add new components, and take out others, as we’ve learned what has worked best. As humans, we have a desire to want to implement something that will be effective, and then stand back and watch it work. However, it’s not always that simple. Often it is not, in fact. Especially during such an uncertain time. So, when something is not working, get rid of it, and try something new. We’ve done that, are doing it now, and will continue to do it as often as needed.

All of the aforementioned sounds simple, and it was not. There was also a ton of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety that went with the plans and actions we’ve created and taken these past three months. Within myself, and within the team. However, we did not let that fear and anxiety stop the work that needed to get done.

Additionally, we have wonderful instructors. They are the main reason why we were able to offer 43 remote classes in Community Education spring term, and 73 for summer. The College was also extremely supportive, allowing us the space we needed to innovate.

The lessons I’ve learned in leadership these past three months are just now starting to surface. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to learn more about myself, and our team these past three months. I knew they were a resilient bunch, yet their level of resilience surpassed even my expectations.

Now as businesses start to reopen, we are continuing to consider what our next steps will be. No one can ever know the future, and, sometimes, as the COVID-19 health crisis proved, the best laid plans can go asunder. However, if you are up to the task, you can thrive in an environment that is completely unknown to you. You take one step at a time. You continue to foster your relationships, be who you are, and create anew over and over again; and, you watch and learn from all of the wonderful people around you.

Questions for you

  • What have you done to stay in action in your business (or life) during the past 6 months?
  • How have you kept relationships strong through all of the recent changes?
  • How have you iterated your business (or life) model to stay relevant and grow during COVID-19?

Look forward to hearing your stories!

Originally posted on servantleadershipcoaching.com

#buildingreslience, #covid-19andleadership, #creatingchange, #iteratingyourbusinessmodel, #keepingrelationshipsstrong, #leadership, #leadershipcahange, #leadershippractice, #relationships, #servantleadership