People Pleaser or Servant Leader? Which Are You?

Achieving Goals, Leadership Coaching, Mindset & Mindfulness
01/02/23 - Ame Wadler
people in a meeting looking at speaker

Meet Bob: Just two years after being promoted to a coveted Vice President role at his organization he is struggling…big time. He is always tired, anxious, and overworked.  Turnover on his team is way above norms. His manager has met with him twice in two months to express concern about his performance.  

Bob doesn’t understand how this has happened. He has been praised at every step of his career and works hard to be a servant leader. He knows that adopting a servant leader mindset has been shown to be highly effective and teams like working for these leaders because they tend to be more focused on the team’s needs than their own.

So where did Bob go wrong? Well Bob confused Servant Leadership with being a People Pleaser. Servant leaders typically:

  1. Act in service to something bigger than themselves – the company, its stakeholders the team, the community
  2. Serve as a role model to the team – act as they want them am to act
  3. Set clear expectations 
  4. Provide consistent and kind feedback
  5. Build people up and empower them to grow

Bob has these intentions and was celebrated for many of them as he rose to his new role in his organization. But, now with some self-examination, he realizes that rather than leading he was focused on pleasing. If you worry that you have crossed the line from leading to pleasing, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you avoid taking a clear position on issues for fear of disappointing someone?
  2. Are you great at giving positive feedback, but waffle when you need to provide critical or corrective input?  
  3. When considering assignments, do you take on what should be delegated to others?  Do you consider these assignments in the context of growth for someone on the team?  
  4. Do you say yes to things that you don’t reasonably have time for? Do you agree to deadlines that won’t work? Are you the first among your peer group to raise your hand for that job that no one wants to do?

If you answer yes to these questions, you’ve crossed the line from servant leader to people pleaser. 

So, how do you lead with empathy while helping you find balance for yourself and your team? It comes down to open and honest communication:

  • Identify the shared mission. Let that mission be the north star for decision making and refer to it frequently. 
  • Listen to your inner voice. Do you have the time for that extra assignment? Is someone else missing an opportunity for growth if you don’t encourage them to take it on?  Does agreeing align with your core values?
  • Acknowledge all ideas but know where you stand. Are you agreeing to preserve popularity? People want to know you value their voice but also want to hear yours.  That’s where collaboration begins.   
  • Be decisive, diplomatic, and direct. There is kindness in honesty if it is delivered with intentional grace. Leave room for discussion but ultimately, make a decision and express it with clarity and guidance. 
  • Show you care about the team’s goals. You, your manager, and your team should be aligned behind a shared purpose – to achieve that north star mission. Acknowledge that you’re in it together, and frame your approach to feedback, delegation, and ownership of responsibility as a means to achieve that goal. 

Making the transition from people pleaser to servant leader doesn’t mean never saying yes. It does mean being mindful of a shared purpose, the needs of your team and the greater value you bring when you can diminish the stress and anxiety that comes from excessively pleasing others. If you are looking for support around your people-pleasing tendencies, learn more about how Ama La Vida can help you.

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Ame Wadler

Hi, I'm Ame, and I'm a coach at Ama La Vida. I approach coaching with a clear focus on goal setting, identifying and refining a long-term goal, and then very specific actionable steps toward reaching that goal. I often use a GROW approach to initial sessions: Goal. Reality. Options. Way forward. I'm grateful you are here, and would love to connect.

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