Servant Leadership By Any Other Name


In the dialogue between Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has the young Juliet proclaim,

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet”

In other words, call it what you want, but the characteristics of a rose – the aroma, texture, and other aesthetic qualities remain the same even if you choose to call it a greglestick.

Servant leadership, in its modern iteration, was a concept developed by Robert Greenleaf from a mostly a-religious (or at least unspecified) base of knowledge and experience. As Greenleaf observed leadership behaviors within a corporate setting, he identified those actions and mindsets that lead to a lifting up of individuals. He saw the benefits of a society, whether a workgroup, corporate enterprise, or geographic community, that built success through serving one another.

Since Greenleaf’s development of the servant leader principles in the 1970’s, several have built on his original ideas to provide a clearer framework that can be taught and applied in settings as diverse as corporations, educational institutions, churches, and government entities.

The church and some faith-based nonprofits eagerly embrace servant leadership, seeing the roots in the teachings of Jesus Christ. He said, “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) Followers of Christ understand the importance of serving others, and the term servant-leadership is widely accepted. Yet even within some Christian circles, the term carries some baggage, and a search is on to rename it.

The concept of service is not unfamiliar outside the church walls, as military members serve their country and politicians serve their constituents. But when it comes to the boardroom and the cubicle farms of our organizations, the idea of serving one another brings unease (although I can’t tell you how many job applicants say, “I like to help others” as a reason to hire them).

The principles of servant leadership are not necessarily the problem. Professor Larry Spears, who teaches servant leadership at Gonzaga University, lists 10 characteristics of a servant leader:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to the growth of people
  • Building community

Most of these qualities are familiar to us, although terms such as “healing” and “stewardship” seem foreign to our perceptions of what we discuss within our corporations. These unique characteristics, however, are exactly what make the servant leadership approach different from many other leadership models and philosophies.

An even greater step out of the leadership model comfort zone is Kathleen Patterson’s servant leadership model (Regent University), which uses terms like love, humility, and altruism. Similarly, Jeremie Kubicek, author of Leadership is Dead, replaces the term servant leadership with humility-based leadership. Citing baggage that comes with the term servant leadership, Kubicek sees the humility-based leaders as the antithesis of the self-serving and self-protecting leader.

It seems that to truly capture the essence of a type of leadership that promotes the needs of followers, to the extreme that productivity and profit are deemphasized over helping individuals to fully achieve all they are capable of, we may have to get comfortable with calling it what it is. Transformational leadership captures this emphasis on raising others up to their full potential, but the missing link, at least according to Patterson, is the notion that a servant leader serves altruistically, not because it is a means to greater productivity or organizational benefit.

While the title “servant leadership” may not resonate with everyone, especially those prone to a less benevolent style of leadership, I think that’s the point. Those who have seen the value of servant leadership, as Robert Greenleaf did decades ago, and are convinced that it delivers the best organizational and personal outcomes, must dialogue about how to articulate the benefits and principles that go along with it to a skeptical audience.

That being said, perhaps the closest commercialized leadership “model” that embraces the principles of servant leadership is The Leadership Challenge. Based on decades of research by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge promotes the care of followers, which sounds a lot like servant leadership. Their principle of Encourage the Heart is based on the belief that, “As a relationship, leadership requires a connection between leaders and their constituents over matters, in the simplest sense, of the heart. It is personal and it is interpersonal.”

The servant leader enjoys serving, and would do it whether it “pays off” or not (that’s the altruistic nature of the model). Some may view this as “soft” or overly-idealistic. But to call service something other than service because it might offend, makes serving others seem optional, sub-par, and unrealistic.

Though others have tried, I’m not sure calling servant leadership by any other name really makes sense. Instead, I see the need to package servant leadership in a way that is clear, compelling, and convincing. Ben Lichtenwalner, who maintains the site www.modernservantleader.com, provides a list of organizations who have applied servant leadership successfully. The list includes well-known companies like AFLAC, 7-Eleven, The Container Store, Herman Miller, and Southwest Airlines, as well as smaller businesses that operate in a limited geography.

So, my suggestion is we move from re-naming servant leadership and focus on promoting it within our organizations and communities. Find out more at…

Modern Servant Leader

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership

Spears Center for Servant Leadership

Regent University Servant Leadership Research Roundtable

   

Investment-Based Performance Improvement

I am a certified performance technologist (CPT). What in the world does that mean? According to the International Society for Performance Improvement, a CPT has proven the ability to apply the ten competencies of human performance improvement in a way that makes a positive performance difference to an organization. Don’t worry, this post is not going to be a shameless self-promotion. I want to focus on my approach to performance improvement and how I’ve shifted my focus from ambition to investment.

First, an overview of the competencies of human performance improvement (HPI):

The 10 Standards of Performance Technology, which are based on four principles and following a systematic process to improve performance, ensure that the Certified Performance Technologist has conducted his or her work in a manner that includes the following:

  • Focus on results and help clients focus on results.
  • Look at situations systemically taking into consideration the larger context including competing pressures, resource constraints, and anticipated change.
  • Add value in how you do the work and through the work itself.
  • Utilize partnerships or collaborate with clients and other experts as required.
  • Systematic assessment of the need or opportunity.
  • Systematic analysis of the work and workplace to identify the cause or factors that      limit performance.
  • Systematic design of the solution or specification of the requirements of the      solution.
  • Systematic development of all or some of the solution and its elements.
  • Systematic implementation of the solution.
  • Systematic evaluation of the process and the results.

Performance improvement, when done with these standards in mind, can be a powerful tool in any organization.  Any time an individual or work group applies a systematic, intentional process to making things better, the results can be like compounding interest in a savings account, leading to great gains over time. The practice of performance technology is a focused effort to innovate solutions to systemic challenges.

Why Your Approach to Performance Improvement Matters

I want to contrast ambition-based performance improvement and investment-based performance improvement.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary gives three definitions for Ambition:

  1. an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power b: desire to achieve a particular end
  2. the object of ambition <her ambition is to start her own business>
  3. a desire for activity or exertion <felt sick and had no ambition>

All of these uses of the word ambition center around an individual trying to get his or her way. Ambition is self-promoting. The original usage applied to those going around town to solicit votes for election. So if I initiate a performance improvement effort from an ambitious mindset, I am first looking at my own rank, power, and ability to influence others to my way of thinking.

Investing, on the other hand, focuses on what I can give to another, making them the center of attention rather than myself. Here’s what Merriam-Webster provides as definitions for Invest:

  1. [Medieval Latin investire, from Latin, to clothe] a: to array in the symbols of office or honor b: to furnish with power or authority c: to grant someone control or authority over : vest
  2. to cover completely : envelop
  3. clothe, adorn
  4. [Middle French investir, from Old Italian investire, from Latin, to surround]: to surround with troops or ships so as to prevent escape or entry
  5. to endow with a quality : infuse

I like the picture that we get from the first usage above: to array in the symbols of office or honor. It ties to the idea of empowerment and equipping people with the tools and structures to succeed in their work. I am a strong believer in servant leadership, which fits perfectly with an investment-based performance improvement methodology.

Investment-based performance improvement has four distinct characteristics:

  1. Humility
  2. Humor
  3. Harmony
  4. Honor

These 4 H’s, when used in conjunction with the competencies of performance technology, create an environment where individuals work collectively for the good of the organization while building one another up.

Let’s take a look at each of the characteristics.

Humility.

We don’t talk much about humility in the workplace. Our western culture views humility as a weakness, something that gets in the way of ambition. Many view humility as unrealistic in the cut-throat world of the marketplace where it’s “eat or be eaten.” But humility is making a resurgence in the marketplace. Good guys (and gals) really can finish first.

Humility breaks down barriers of communication, disarms individuals from protecting their territory, and allows us to listen. When we are driven by ambition, we cannot hear what is being said because we are always looking to promote ourselves and our solutions. But with humility I can truly listen, truly desire to hear, and see where the insight emerges, even if it doesn’t originate with me.

Humor.

It may seem odd to make humor a characteristic of investing, but it makes such a big difference that it warrants an honored place as an essential element in working with others toward common goals. When I say humor, I am not talking about sarcasm, jokes, or laughing at the mistakes or shortcomings of others. Instead, humor as an investment gives us perspective. It is the ability to look at a ridiculous situation and see it as it is – a case of human reality at its finest and most sublime.

Many of us have lost our sense of humor in the workplace. We have become cynics or comics, but have no good humor that allows things to slide. We are quickly offended, proud of our fast retorts, and use humor to tear others down to make ourselves look better. But humor as an investment intentionally laughs at challenges, sees the irony and chooses to smile instead of lash out, and promotes light-heartedness over criticism or caustic remarks.

Harmony.

Harmony embraces diversity, especially cognitive diversity where we bring together different perspectives, unique insights, and approaches to situations that may be foreign to our own experience or preference. Harmony as a performance investment looks to blend ideas from multiple sources into one beautiful arrangement that is infinitely more than anyone single individual could accomplish.

To create a harmonious workplace requires that we look at each individual and learn to appreciate what they bring to the party. We have a tendency within our human nature to look for homogeneity – we immediately seek out those who are like us. It makes us feel comfortable, part of the group. But diversity is all around us, and we must promote harmony through building rapport with those who see things differently, looking for areas of agreement, but mostly striving to appreciate their point of view and working to integrate the best from all sources.

Honor.

The final characteristic of investment-based performance improvement is honor. Honor and harmony are kindred spirits, since honoring someone can lead to harmony. But I keep honor as a distinct characteristic because of its importance as a mindset toward other people. Honor has to do with “a showing of usually merited respect.” When we honor someone, we hold them in high regard. We see them as a person of value, worthy of investment.

In another sense of the word, we consider it an honor to work with certain people, or to be recognized by them. When it comes to investing in someone else, to make their ability to perform at their peak level, we should consider it an honor. That person may be on a different level in a corporate hierarchy, but if we choose to see it as a privilege to assist them in their success, our ambition takes a back seat.

Investment-based performance improvement, using the 4 H’s as the philosophical starting point, sparks a positive change in the workplace. Whether a certified performance technologist, a supervisor working with a team of customer service reps, or vice president of national sales, you are making an investment in the lives of others. Ambition has its place, but when our ambition centers on our own power, glory, and advancement we quickly become blind to how investing in the performance of others raises all of us to a higher level. When you raise others up, you go a little higher yourself, but then you realize that isn’t really what it’s all about after all.

For more about Human Performance Technology and the Certified Performance Technologist designation, visit the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). If you decide to join, make sure you list me as the one who referred you!

Fundamentals of Performance Improvement: A Guide to Improving People, Process, and Performance

Tai Chi, Aikido and the Art of Managing Change

A Woman does tai chi.

A Woman does tai chi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the Temple of Heaven as our backdrop and surrounded by tourists and locals filing by on their way to the ancient attractions, our group learned a Tai Chi routine in the middle of a walkway with the buzz of the vast city around us. It was a surreal experience.

I was traveling with a group of university students who were in the China for a month to learn about Chinese business practices. The contrast between the chaotic setting of noisy, polluted and over-crowded Beijing and the tranquility of tai chi provides a fitting metaphor for organizational life.

If you’re not familiar with Tai Chi, the focus is on calmness and is a good way to manage stress. The Japanese version of Tai Chi is Aikido, which emphasizes redirecting of energy rather than attack. Aikido also adds in elements of Judo. The principles of Aikido include acknowledging what is coming toward you, accepting the current reality, and redirecting the energy away from bodily harm.  The benefits of both of these martial arts forms can be realized without the religious attachments associated with them.

I was certainly not a quick learner of Tai Chi, but appreciate the mental focus and athletic control it takes to master this beautiful art form. And I appreciate the metaphor that helps me better understand the possibility of peace in the midst of chaos, the ability to turn off the noise around me to focus on what I can do to manage my situation – to redirect my energy toward something useful.

The three principles of Aikido provide a positive framework from which to manage change, whether personal, organizational or cultural.

Acknowledge: We cannot live in denial. Change is all around us and often comes when it is least convenient, causing disruption to our current state. It is important to acknowledge that change is inevitable and to acknowledge that we seldom have much say in the changes that come at us.

Accept: We accept that the change is upon us. This is where choice comes into play. We can put up our defenses, bury our heads in the sand, or start swinging. We don’t accept the outcome of the change, but we accept that the change is taking place and that we have to decide our response. We accept responsibility for how we react. It is in these moments of choice that our character is shaped.

Redirect: In Aikido, the energy that is coming toward the attacked person is redirected, not resisted. As change comes toward us, we can either try to block it, or take it and redirect our thinking, our posture, and our practices toward something useful and positive. Redirecting doesn’t mean we stand by passively.  Instead, we look for ways to adjust, and by choosing this course we set a constructive tone for ourselves and those we influence.

Recommended Reading:

HBR's 10 Must Reads on Change Management (including featured article 'Leading Change,' by John P. Kotter)

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World Revised

In the Midwest? Join the Omaha Organization Development Network on Sept. 26th for a conference featuring Meg Wheatley. For more information, visit the Omaha OD Network site.

Developing Your Generosity Muscle

The word Generosity comes from the Latin generositas, which speaks to nobility, excellence, and magnanimity. The origins hark to the nobility, who were expected to be unselfish in sharing their plentiful resources with others.

In Today We Are Rich, Tim Sanders tells the story of his great-grandfather, Tommie. A successful farmer with a heart of service, Tommie was sought-out for his advice not just in farming, but also in financial matters and life’s dilemmas. Sanders says that Tommie “learned the value of giving the invisible: wisdom, connections, and reputation.”

Generosity does not come naturally to most of us. I wish I could say that I always give without any consideration for what I will get back. The hunger for recognition and a desire to make sure others know what I have contributed has caused senseless distraction in my life. I long to be like Tommie and other leaders who give for the sake of giving. Sanders quoted his great-grandfather as telling a critic, “I did it for the same reason a dog sleeps all day – because I like to do it, and because I can!”

How do I become a person who likes to be generous, expecting no thank-you, no plaque, no accolades of any kind? Strength-training in generosity begins in the mind. A mindset of generosity is developed when I learn to hold my possessions, talents, knowledge and connections loosely in my hands. I cannot believe that there are limited resources and that my role is to claim as much as possible from the reservoir.

Generous people are stewards of what has been entrusted to them – talents, wisdom, possessions –  so when someone else is in need they willingly and freely share what they have without expecting anything in return.

When I started my consulting practice I met with dozens of individuals trying to learn from them the keys to their success. I am so thankful for the way they shared their challenges, lessons learned, and secrets to success they learned along the way. It made my transition easier, and I am eager to share those insights, along with my own, with anyone wanting to start their own business.

Almost every person I talked with was extremely liberal with their time, talent and insights.  They were not meeting with me to see what I could offer them, but genuinely wanted to pass along to me from their experience. They gained a sense of fulfillment and pleasure from being able to help.

My idealistic nature can’t help but wonder what would happen if more people began exercising their generosity muscle in their workplaces, homes and communities. I have identified four things that I can do to proactively strengthen my generosity muscle:

  1. Give holistically. Look for people to give to from all areas of my life: at work, at church, and especially in my own family.
  2. Give personally. Take time to actually connect with others, don’t simply “bestow and be gone.”
  3. Give sacrificially. I need to give even if it makes me uncomfortable, gives the other an advantage, or wipes me out.
  4. Give freely. Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give.” Although his was a spiritual context, I believe it applies to the larger sense of generosity.

When I strengthen my generosity muscle in this way I become healthier and bring healing, restoration and prosperity to those around me.

I would love to hear your stories of generosity – have you been the recipient of someone’s magnanimity? Have you been blessed to generously share with others? Post your reply as a comment.

Assuring Constancy Amidst Constant Change

Ruth Graham writes,

“It is difficult to trust things that change. Trust is built on the assurance of constancy.”

It’s almost cliché to say that we live in times of constant change – we know more change than we do steadiness. Fourth generation (4G) mobile technology is being released and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as generations of technology! The iPod was launched in 2001 and is in its 6th generation, meaning that the technology is waaaayyyy better today than it was in 2001, right?

Besides technology, we see change everywhere around us. Egypt is in the midst of a chaotic change to its political system as individuals take to the streets demanding to be heard. Companies have had to react to economic changes, forcing some to shut their doors for good, others to lay off scores of workers, while others took the opportunity to reinvent themselves to survive and thrive rather than fall victim of the recession.

So what is a leader to do when followers are looking for an anchor when change is swirling around them? The simple answer is character.

The leader who forgets that people are looking for stability will soon find their followers stopped in their tracks, unable to move forward because uncertainty has paralyzed them.

This disengagement occurs when leaders put forward momentum before relationships and miss opportunities to assure stability of character despite uncertainty and shifting priorities within the organization. I worked for a company that had three CEOs in less than five years and a new one was just coming in the door when I was leaving. Each executive had his own agenda, which meant no one knew from one year to the next what was going to happen to their job. It didn’t help that this company has a reputation for regular layoffs, so the level of uncertainty was magnified and pandemonium reigned. People put in their time, but politics and turf wars prevented the organization from thriving.

But there were some managers who did especially well even in this tumultuous climate. Leaders were often in the same boat as their followers however, I witnessed a couple of outliers who managed to maintain the trust of their team even though the future was uncertain. These leaders demonstrated constancy of character in the following ways:

  1. Transparency. The leaders who were best at creating constancy amidst change were honest and open. They shared their own concerns and frustrations in a way that promoted dialogue without promising anything beyond what they could commit to. They didn’t pretend and they didn’t ignore the issues, but faced them plainly and honestly.
  2. Positivity. Those leaders who could keep a proper perspective helped their followers to do the same. Positivity in the middle of uncertainty is challenging, but I saw leaders who could communicate with a long-term vision and foster a sense of “everything is going to be alright” amongst their teams. They remind people that change can be good and that even if we don’t initially like the outcome we will adapt, learn, or find something that fits us better in the long run.
  3. Reliability. Leaders who avoided jumping on the bandwagon of rumor, second-guessing, and chasing scape-goats provide an anchor for followers, a positive example of reliability and duty that strengthens the group. The reliable leader listens well but doesn’t allow finger-pointing or back-stabbing. This sends a message that the leader can be trusted and a calm in the storm.

Assuring constancy amidst constant change is a critical skill for leaders to develop in our fast-paced world.

The first century Greek philosopher Epictetus, in The Art of Living, says, “To live a life of virtue, you have to become consistent, even when it isn’t convenient, comfortable, or easy.”

Virtuous leaders who develop the consistent character traits of transparency, positivity and reliability when it is inconvenient and difficult, find that they are boosted by the support of faithful followers. This mutual partnership can withstand constant change in circumstances because it runs deeper than the external chaos in which it operates.