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Servant Leadership 101: 4 Ways to Raise the Bar

February 1, 2019

As people become more empowered and capable of taking ownership of their process and executing on their decisions, the next area to focus is raising the bar.  This is about a drive for continuous improvement.  It will be demonstrated with valuable outcomes, higher quality, and growth in the capabilities of individuals and teams.

The key is that the people doing the work own this and drive this.  You, as servant-leader, are creating the environment that inspires others to higher greatness and challenges them to take greater responsibility.

Let’s look at 4 ways servant-leaders help raise the bar.  As with most things, it starts with transparency.

Servant Leadership 101: 4 Ways to Raise the Bar

#1 – Raise the bar with transparency

When there is transparency to goals, progress, and outcomes, it is possible for those doing the work to take ownership. 

If a goal is not achievable or isn’t clear enough, people can speak up and set better expectations.  When real progress towards a goal is understood, people can point out when the plan needs to change to get closer to the desired outcomes.  When the outcomes are clear, people know how well they did and where there are opportunities for improvement.  They will be able to apply their learning in ways that create better results in the future.

Here are a few examples of techniques to create transparency to goals, progress, and outcomes. Some of these come from the world of agile product development, but they can be applied to any type of work.

  • Set interim goals.  For example, you may have annual or quarterly  goals.  Consider if it would be beneficial to set interim goals monthly, weekly, or perhaps daily.  (Read this if you’re struggling to create good Sprint Goals.)

  • Use a visual work management board to create transparency to progress towards goals.

  • Use meaningful metrics to create transparency to outcomes.  Remember that value is just an assumption until validated by your users/ customers.  You need to measure results and look at the trends in order to create meaningful insights.

  • Establish quality standards and metrics that will help you understand the impact of quality on outcomes.  There are many ways to look at quality:  defects/ errors, how well the solution meets the need, the quality of the user’s experience, etc.  Practices such as pairing, peer reviews, quality checklists, and automation can help improve quality.

When there is transparency to the process, inefficiencies can be identified and corrected by the people doing the work.  Furthermore, anyone can jump in and help others when there are bottlenecks in the process.  Making the process transparent helps identify knowledge and skill gaps, as well as impediments that are slowing the work down.  One set of practices to create transparency to process within the Scrum framework is Kanban.  (Read this post to learn more about implementing Kanban with Scrum.)

As a servant-leader, you may need to explain the importance of transparency and help introduce practices that create transparency to goals, progress, outcomes, quality, and the overall process.  The key is to do this from the stance of letting others take ownership of their work, not so you can micro-manage their work.

#2 – Raise the bar by challenging.

You may need to challenge people’s limiting beliefs (i.e. not good enough/ experienced enough), assumptions about what’s possible  (i.e. changing processes/ policies), and creativity (i.e. thinking and working differently).

Sometimes you will have to want more for people than they want or believe is possible for themselves.

The key is to do this from a place of compassion, truly caring about people, believing in them.  You will need to support them, enable them, and sometimes protect them.  You will need to stand by their side, through both failure and success.

#3 – Raise the bar by creating a culture of continuous learning.

Learning is essential in knowledge work.  Effective servant-leaders create a culture of continuous learning.

What does this look like?

  • People are always seeking to generate insights from their actions and results.

  • People are always seeking to share their insights to help others learn and grow.

  • People treat mistakes and failures as learning opportunities.

Even when things get tough, resilient companies are the ones that invest in their people’s learning and let people drive their own growth and development.

#4  – Raise the bar by creating a culture of accountability.

A culture of accountability means that people are willing to hold each other accountable.  Note this is not about blaming or throwing people under the bus.  It’s about people wanting to be great as a team.  That drive allows people to enter into productive conflict, commit to team decisions, and hold each other accountable for executing on those decisions and meeting a high bar.  (You can learn more about this in Patrick Lencioni’s book 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.)

If we are doing #1-3 above, we are helping pave the way to a culture of accountability.

It can be difficult to tell a team member that their work isn’t up to par.  But consider changing the perspective.  Wouldn’t you want a team member to tell you if they felt your work wasn’t good enough?  Wouldn’t you want them to help you grow as a professional?  The alternative usually leads to frustrated team members and gossiping.

You can help set a great example of holding others accountable and helping encourage others to hold you accountable.


When people have transparency to the things that impact their work, they will be able to raise their own bar.  Once transparency is established, servant-leaders can challenge people to move beyond limiting beliefs and organizational constraints.  Along the way, grow a culture of continuous learning and accountability.  People and teams will WANT to raise their own bar in an environment that enables intrinsic motivation.


This is part of a series of posts about servant leadership to influence change and inspire greatness. My goal is to make servant leadership more understandable and actionable for everyone regardless of position, title, or status.  Because this is the only way to create meaningful change in our complex world.  Instead of feeding into division, fear, and disempowerment, we will lead by inspiring, enabling, and empowering.  Read all of the posts in the series here:

Download the Coaching with the Scrum Values Mini-Guide

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