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Servant Leadership That Sticks – Forbes

by Arifa Rana

Katrina Williams doesn’t do anything halfway, and that includes leading people.
“If you’re gonna do something, it’s worth doing it really well,” Williams declared in a recent interview. “I’m in it to help our people, and the organization I’m there to serve, to really accomplish their potential.”
Katrina Williams, Head of Sales and ITS Capability, CDW
Williams began her career in sales, now serving as head of sales and ITS capability for CDW, but the rush and excitement of closing her own big deals eventually lost their allure. Sharing in others’ successes became a much stronger calling.
“I have an immense amount of pride when I see others achieve success,” Williams reflects. “I’ll never forget the day I felt that for the first time. That was when it was like, ‘It’s time for me to formally pursue leadership.’”
Williams draws much inspiration from CDW’s egalitarian organizational culture, where everyone is referred to as a ‘coworker’ in an effort to mitigate any potentially negative effects of hierarchical structure. At CDW, no one person’s contributions are more or less integral to the work than another’s.
“When we say coworker, we really mean it. We are in this together,” Williams asserts. “Whether you are a C-level executive or someone who is a new hire into the organization, you are here for a reason. We saw something in you that made us want you to be a part of our team. You are here to be a part of our strategy. You’ve got a role. And as leaders [at CDW], we take that pretty seriously.”
Communal spirit isn’t the only goal, of course, Williams says. In her experience, the energy created by serving others is compounding, creating an upward spiral of performance that benefits everyone in the organization. That’s true whether the service is directed toward a colleague, a customer, or anyone else with whom you might work.
“It’s like a tidal wave that can take over an entire organization and create this culture of servant leadership, focusing on how we all provide value to others,” Williams enthuses. “The culture that can create is this high-performing organization, all focused on driving value—to people, to the organization, to our customers. That’s contagious.”
Not only is it contagious. It’s sticky.
“Nobody wants to leave an organization where they are so involved and know they’re being invested in,” Williams says.
In the midst of record turnover and talent shortages, that’s advice employers should take. Increasingly, people are choosing to leave jobs in which they cannot flex their full potential.
Providing meaningful work is part of the equation to solving this widespread issue. But communication is an overlooked and underutilized tool to engage and get the best from people, according to Williams.
“I say to leaders all the time, ‘Have you told those new coworkers why you hired them?’” Williams says. “Do they know what you saw in them?”
Communicating to new hires the specific value they bring to the team is the most efficient way to connect them to the work, in Williams’ view. Rather than grasping at straws, wondering why they were hired or how they should be utilizing their strengths, new hires are freed to spend valuable time getting onboard and up to speed.
“They’re not assuming what value the leader thinks they bring to the team,” Williams explains. “They actually know, and it helps them find their place. That engages people differently.”
Don’t waste time, she urges: “Right at the beginning, help them see how they play into the bigger picture. Help them understand why we think it’s important they’re here.”
The same philosophy goes for anyone you’ve identified as a high-potential talent, worthy of further investment and development. Or, likewise, anyone who feels stunted in their current position and may be thinking of leaving.
“First, you’ve got to tell them you saw that potential in them,” Williams says. “And then give them the chance to explore their potential. Give them the chance to do meaningful work, work that allows them to stretch. Be there with them to coach and guide along the way. Give that valuable feedback in the moment.”
Having a reputation for high-performance and doing great work doesn’t have to mean a culture of overcommitment and burnout, Williams says. Rather, it’s about a genuine commitment from leaders to develop and support others’ success.
“It really is about genuinely being in it, and ensuring that coworkers understand that you are invested in them and here to help them,” Williams says. “That’s what superstar leadership looks like. It’s transparency. It is being committed. It’s being invested, it’s being authentic. It’s strategic. It’s not afraid of taking risks. And it’s so much fun to be around all of that.”

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