Servant Leadership – Empower your team

10 ways to empower your SE team for success!

Servant Leadership

Inspired by the methods outlined in Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf, I applied the lessons learned to my Sales Engineering team. It was apparent how relevant these concepts were to our profession. An SE team is a support function to the business side of a company and it serves primarily to improve sales win rates and drive higher revenue. It also bridges the “pre-sales” and “post-sales” experience for customers through product evangelism, solution consulting and architecting tailored solutions. While we serve our sales reps with all the support they need to win (qualified) deals, we are also faithfully serving our prospects with accurate and relevant information so they can make the right decisions.

More importantly, I found this methodology suitable to serving internally – within the SE team. In most cases,  SE teams have a high percentage of members that work remotely from their regional territory. Similar to the sales reps they support, they travel often and work in a fairly individualistic environment. Even though SEs report to SE leadership, they are actually more accountable to their sales counterparts (Account Executives). Due to all these factors, I believe the SE leadership could benefit from a deeper, more engaged management style. I am sharing my top 10 ways that SE management can help their team feel engaged, empowered and served:

#1.       Rule No 1 – This may be a refresher for the experienced leaders but a shocker to the new managers – Your success doesn’t matter anymore! If you were the best SE in the company, it is now your responsibility to promote many (even better) SEs on the team. As a leader and facilitator of everyone’s success, empower the team to deliver much more than what each individual could deliver. It is the team’s success that you will be evaluated on, not your individual performance.

#2.       Bring an equal level of commitment to each team member. No one on your team deserves less or more of your attention, care and support. Question why some members of your team are getting rewards/recognition and others are not. Think about what *you* could do to help them get more visibility for their efforts. Are everyone’s strengths aligned with their assignments? Do a few have weaknesses that are temporary and can be overcome with additional coaching? It is common to focus solely on the SEs that are struggling but remember top performers on your team equally need your commitment to stay challenged and engaged. You are an equal leader to all team members.

#3.       Frequent one-on-ones are a must and should be taken seriously. Be engaged and prepared in these meetings with each team member, every time. These serve as a great opportunity to learn about your team and what motivates each SE to succeed. The more you know about your team (professionally and personally), the better you can serve as a leader. Drive and lead this quality-time with your team member and ensure that you both get something positive out of it. Share advice with this question in mind “what would I do in this situation?

#4.       Career paths are important and should be openly discussed. First, acknowledge that no one on your team is permanent (neither are you). The most common complaint I have heard about the Sales Engineering role is that it can be too repetitive. At the same time I have noticed that most SEs are in this profession for the lifetime. Create an environment where your team is encouraged to evaluate their future career direction. I know its a scary thought. But in my experience, it has helped more than harmed. Needless to say, it is also your responsibility to keep evangelizing the role and the value that SEs bring to the company.

#5.       Be candid when communicating strengths and weaknesses (areas of improvement) with your team. More importantly, guide them on how they can overcome hurdles that are keeping them away from achieving their goals. Most people know what they are not best at, so it’s your job as a leader to empower them, encourage them, and educate them as needed. If you genuinely care about their success, this type of communication should be a breeze.

#6.       Be honest about who should and should not be on your team. You owe it to your team to make the tough decisions on managing anyone out, who is not a right fit for the role. Continuously evaluate each member for who is “swimming with the current” (core strengths are aligned with the responsibilities) Vs “swimming against the current”. Invest time and energy in figuring out why someone is “swimming against the current?” and what can you do to help them achieve success. Think hard about what other role would allow them to swim “with the current”. Especially if you hired them, it is your responsibility to do everything to ensure their success on your team. This is probably one of the hardest parts of being a leader, but very crucial to your success.

#7.       Acknowledge even the smallest accomplishments. Positive encouragement is contagious and it only motivates your team to do even better. As we all know, cash bonuses and titles have a shorter-lived impact than realizing that your Manager believes in you, recognizes your hard work and is watching out for your best interest. Sounds like a simple rule, but not often (enough) practiced

#8.       Own your team’s brand. Collaborate cross-functionally and advocate for the value your team is adding to the company’s success. Carry the leadership flag for your team and have the responsibility to defend on your team’s behalf. You should be seen as your team’s biggest champion to the other leaders. Your team’s brand = your brand. Simply put, the more you serve your team to achieve great things, the better you succeed as a leader.

#9.       As a teacher and a coach, your hope and goal should be that your direct reports become even stronger contributors than you ever were. Often, the best individual contributors are promoted to the leadership role. But if you continue to be focused on being the best contributor, you are likely taking emphasis away from teaching others. Don’t hold back on any “secret sauce” that helped you achieve success. If you find yourself to be the smartest on your team, then you either have not hired the right team or you are not serving and empowering your team enough.

#10.   Last but not least, don’t be afraid to ask how else you can serve your team. Some people want career guidance, others want help with their assignments or your technical expertise, and some may just want a listener. After all, leadership is a responsibility to nurture and lead a team of individuals, with unique needs, unique strengths and even more unique personalities. As a servant leader you are there for them, ready to serve in whatever form is needed.

Now I acknowledge that this leadership style is not for everyone. Unfortunately, you can’t fake your way into being a servant leader. Although, if any of these rules resonate with you, give them a try for the next few weeks and see if your team feels more empowered, engaged and served.