Servant Leadership

Summary of article, “Is Servant Leadership the Answer to the Recession?” (www.trainingzone.co.uk, May 11, 2009)
Please ask permission to reproduce this article. pamhollister@thepeopleprocess.com

A few weeks ago, I told a client that the difference between their firm and a closely related “sister” firm they are associated with, is humility. “Your firm’s leadership has humility and has truly put it to practice in their interaction with their clients and employees.” What is the definition of humility? Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary lists descriptive words such as, absence of pride, having or showing a consciousness of one’s shortcomings, unpretentious. When I shared my opinion my own definition was, “not being a know-it-all, teachable, and approachable.”

Imagine my elation when a few days later I received this article conducted with Ken Blanchard, the One Minute Manager himself, and who truly put “Leadership Training” on the map, by Training Zone about “Servant Leadership” requiring humility. Humility is such a powerful, important quality, and no one expresses its power in leadership qualities better than Ken Blanchard. Therefore, I’d like to share portions of his interview with you.

What does this have to do with personality-type? Servant leaders learn as much as they can about the people they supervise. They get to know, trust and love them. One of the best ways to do this is by understanding the strengths of their employees. And, that understanding is easily achieved by learning about the four-letter personality type of the people we work with. As you read this article, please note that servant leaders help people win through teaching and coaching them to do their best. Knowledge of personality type theory gives you the skills to be able to teach and coach people to do their best.

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“Servant leaders…are humble people who don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less. They don’t deny their power, they just realize it passes through them, not from them.” (Ken Blanchard-www.kenblanchard.com)

The idea that leaders and managers must serve their people if they are to create highly successful organizations is not new. Ken Blanchard – a high profile supporter of the servant leadership concept – explains why leading with humility could be the key to surviving and thriving during the current economic crisis. If you want to survive and thrive during this crisis, you need to first make sure you are a servant leader. In tough times and in good times, the first question you need to ask yourself is why are you leading? Are you here to serve, or be served?

Servant leadership was first introduced by Bob Greenleaf in the 1960’s, at that time, a top executive with telecommunications giant AT&T. Although it is now far more accepted as an effective management principle, the idea that leaders and managers must serve their people if they were to create highly successful organizations was entirely new at that time. Servant leadership flew in the face of traditional management practice which concerned itself with directing, controlling, and supervising employees’ activities – of playing the role of judge, critic and evaluator of their efforts.

Mr. Blanchard emphasizes that in a shrinking economy, this kind of hierarchical leadership is even less effective. “The last thing we need to develop are still more organizations where colleagues spend most of their time trying to please the boss rather than accomplish the organization’s goals and visions; where people try to protect themselves rather than to help move the organization in its desired direction; where people get promoted only on their upward influencing skills and not their actual achievements. It is precisely these kind of organizational cultures that have got us into this mess, cultures where a ‘what’s in it for me?’ mentality has prevailed, and where longer term ethical considerations have been sacrificed at the altar of short-term greed and the exploitation of the less fortunate. This downturn should be a wakeup call for each and every leader and manager. There is no better time to start grounding ourselves in humility, no better time to start thinking about how we can make a real difference on this planet and focus on the common good. Now is the time to become a servant leader.”

The qualities of a servant leader

Servant leaders don’t fear losing face by making ethical as well as purely financed-based decisions, or fail to recognize and promote talent at a ‘lower’ level in case they later find their positions threatened. On the contrary, they are confident and skilled enough to set powerful visions, build up people at the frontline and put more power into their hands, so they can really make a difference to the customer experience and help get business booming from the bottom up. They are ‘humble’ people who don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less. They don’t deny their power, they just realize it passes through them, not from them.

Servant leaders seek to help people win through teaching and coaching them to do their best. They listen to their people, praise them, support them, and redirect them when they deviate from their goals. They find out what their people need to be successful. Rather than focusing on self-interest, on what will please them, servant leaders are interested in making a difference in the lives of their people and, in the process, impacting the organization for the better.

Sadly, too many top managers still think leading in this way will lead to mutiny. Instead of becoming successful servant leaders they become the opposite; they become self-serving leaders, who ultimately set themselves and their organizations up for failure because of their destructive influence. Servant leaders avoid this destructive influence by turning the traditional hierarchical pyramid upside-down in their organizations. This inspires and excites people to live according to their organization’s vision, because when they see leaders taking on coaching roles to build self-esteem, encouraging individual growth and giving people the tools they need to deliver that vision, people are more motivated, more responsible, and far more loyal. Everyone wins.

Becoming a servant leader

Ask yourself: “What is my self-worth based on?” Self-serving leaders base their self-worth on how much money they make, the recognition they get for their work, and their power and status. And while there is nothing wrong with making good money, and with getting power and status and recognition as a result of what you do, you’re in trouble if you confuse those things with who you really are, because then you are always going to need more and more of them.

Servant leadership is about recognizing that you are someone who needs to let go of your ego, and recognize that you are entitled to self-esteem irrespective of your salary or status. It is about getting up 45 minutes earlier, so you can take time to get in touch with who you are and what kind of person you want to be. Then you’ll have a better chance of living that vision that day. It is about developing the habit of getting a small group of people to be honest with you, and allowing them to tell you when you’re being stupid, just in case.

Finally, servant leadership is about having the courage to let your people bring their brains to work and giving them the power to help deliver your organization’s vision and values. Catch them doing things right and praise them. And remember that profit is the applause you get for taking care of your people, taking care of your customers and doing a great job.

Pamela Hollister
Author, The PEOPLE Process
May 18, 2009

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