It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then
conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? — Robert K. Greenleaf
“…more likely themselves to become leaders” – Isn’t that how you thought Greenleaf would end that sentence? I read it that way. We don’t naturally think of aspiring to serve – “moving up the ranks” to better position ourselves to serve.
Why write about servant leadership?
So much has been and continues to be written about servant leadership. The terms change and trend a bit differently over time. Of late, relational leadership has gained in popularity. This type of leadership is defined as “as a relational process of people together attempting to accomplish change or make a difference to benefit the common good.”
I love that concept and style of leading, but servant leadership goes even farther. Relational leaders can focus on their particular team or tribe, in a mentoring, collaborative role…for the good of those leaders and the organization and client base. Servant leaders aspire to a wide reach. Not just leader to leader, but to permeate the whole of the organization with an ethic that everyone, at every level, matters. This is a huge aspiration but the gains are huge as well.
Marcel Schwantes has also written 10 Compelling Reasons Servant Leadership May Be the Best, Says Science. In this piece Schwantes tackles the misconceptions about servant leadership as well as the many reasons why it’s the best form of leadership. I personally love this article because the evidence of the kind of company that prospers under servant leadership is undeniable. We know these organizations by their service – like Chick-Fil-A, Southwest Airlines, Home Depot, Ritz Carlton, FedEx, UPS, U.S. Marine Corps, and many others. Very persuasive.
Finally, I’d like to share General Stanley McChrystal‘s view of leading “like gardeners”. My husband is a gardener. Even after a long, tiring day at his regular job, he puts in the time necessary to tend the plants he’s growing. Bent over, on his knees sometimes, doing the work of nurturing them to reach their maximum fruitfulness.
“Regular visits by good gardeners are not pro forma gestures of concern—they leave the crop stronger. So it is with leaders.”
Employees and customers know the experience (or lack thereof) of the leader who truly attends to their needs. No drive-by visits here. No sprinkling of some corporate fairy-dust just by the sheer presence of the leader in the room, or the building, or on podcast/commercial.
McChrystal warns against the leader who becomes too important to personally serve his personnel or customers.
“I would tell my staff about the “dinosaur’s tail”: As a leader grows more senior, his bulk and tail become huge, but like the brontosaurus, his brain remains modestly small. When plans are changed and the huge beast turns, its tail often thoughtlessly knocks over people and things. That the destruction was unintentional doesn’t make it any better.”
Always in thinking of leadership, we are tempted to look to our own leaders…to measure them by the scale of excellence (seen above). The servant leader is servant first. Don’t get muddled up by checking off what your leader is not. Serve that leader, as you serve other personnel and customers. Serve. Serve by leading. Lead by serving.
“Servant-leadership is more than a concept, it is a fact. Any great leader, by which I also mean an ethical leader of any group, will see herself or himself as a servant of that group and will act accordingly.”
[Please don’t miss the links below…especially those not mentioned in this blog. Also please share examples (in Comments section below) of servant leadership you have experienced…or your own personal journey in becoming a servant leader.]
In his LinkedIn article, Barry Sanders talks about one of the characteristics of what makes a “best place to work”. This characteristic is “common purpose”. He writes:
Common purpose is essential to driving organization-wide adaptability, which is key to succeeding in today’s fast-paced business world. A shared set of values and goals across the organization allows leaders and individual contributors to achieve widespread alignment, manage uncertainty, and guide decisions in times of turmoil and change.
Without establishing common purpose, companies risk a lack of motivation, lower levels of commitment, less loyalty, and decreased alignment amongst their employees—not to mention negative Glassdoor reviews.
He also quotes from his CEO General Stanley McChrystal’s bestseller Team of Teamswhich gives this summary of the importance of common purpose:
“Team members tackling complex environments must all grasp the team’s situation and overarching purpose…Individual SEALs have to monitor the entirety of their operation just as soccer players have to keep track of the entire field, not just their own patch of grass. They must be collectively responsible for the team’s success and understand everything that responsibility entails.”
When you can see the entire field, not just your patch of grass, your organization becomes more effective—and a better place to work. – Barry Sanders
I sure hope senior leaders get this message. Just communicating the purpose is not enough. That “patch of grass” must be given to that soccer player. He must own it and own his part of the entire field. Leaders who genuinely believe in and nurture common purpose cultivate a “best place to work” for their personnel.
2) Safeguarding Your Marriage – Infidelity or unfaithfulness in our marriage relationships is not just about sexual betrayal. Infidelity can happen when we allow our hearts to become more bonded to someone or something else more than to our own spouses. Dave Willis defines infidelity as “broken trust or broken loyalty”. He has posted a tremendously helpful article entitled The 9 Forms of Infidelity in Marriage (Hint: 8 of Them Don’t Involve Sex). Willis is a pastor,counselor and founder of Stronger Marriages. Single or married, you will benefit from his article because too often we “fall” into infidelity by letting ourselves be deceived in thinking it’s nothing. Safeguard your relationships!
3) Being Different – Matt Damico has written an excellent piece for Christ-followers. It is The World Needs You to Be Different. If you are reading this and you aren’t keen on the teachings of Jesus, you may already think that Christians are a quirky lot of people. What Damico says in this article is to call us to the rhythms, the routines, the practices of the church that work a peculiarity in us that’s a good thing.
Piano scales make a pianist. Hours behind the wheel make a driver. Weightlifting reps make muscles, and lots of miles make a runner. Routine and repetition aid us in so many ways, yet a lot of us seem allergic to similar habits in our weekly church worship gatherings.
But just as these individual habits do something to us, so it is with our congregational habits: they’re making us into something. God willing, they’re making us the right kind of peculiar.
We’ll bear fruit in this life when our roots are firmly planted in the coming new earth. As C.S. Lewis said, history shows that “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” One of the main ways this happens is through the rhythms and repetitions worked into our weekly gatherings.
So, as your church gathers for worship this weekend, appreciate anew what’s happening, how the strange rituals — the “rhythms of grace,” as Mike Cosper calls them — are making you more faithful and more fruitful. – Matt Damico
4) Hard Seasons – I’m not going to wax on here about hard seasons – we all know what ours are. I just always want to keep Syrian refugees on my radar so here’s a photo piece that dramatically displays their reality…in a way that has stayed in my mind all week.
Then I also wanted to share a piece by Aaron Brown. I know his family. He grew up in Chad where his father was a physician. His reflects on a very difficult time and its oddly positive impact on his life…renewing his hope after the very difficult year of 2016.
5) Small Beginnings – In the Bible, the prophet Zechariah encouraged the people, “Do not despise small beginnings.” They had the huge task of rebuilding the Temple, and Scripture tells us, this great work began in the mundane but extraordinary act of Zerubbabel picking up the plumb line. Any beginning may seem small and inadequate for the grand vision that stretches in front of us. However, we never know when the small explodes into wonder.
Chip and Joanna Gaines (HGTV stars of Fixer Upper) have an incredible story of small beginnings which grew into a huge, phenomenally successful business. They started out flipping houses as a young couple and often had just the cash in their pockets. Now they have their own TV show, a real estate business, home goods store, and “The Silos” – a refurbished commercial venue in Waco, Texas.
Another example of small beginnings is pastor and author Tim Keller. Just this past week, Keller announced he was stepping down from the senior pastor position of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. He pastored there for almost 30 years and it now is a multi-site 5000-member church. [This is a planned succession and he will be teaching in a seminary.] A friend of mine here in Richmond “knew him when”. Years ago, before his NYC church role he was her pastor, in a small church near here – West Hopewell Presbyterian Church. Small beginnings…
Whether you are examining a small beginning as a Christian or from a different worldview, there is excellent counsel to be had…both in Scripture and in articles (such as those linked below).
Just yesterday I was trying to encourage a young man about what he viewed as a small beginning in his career. Not sure I made sense at all. Then today, my husband emailed me this great article – about the exact same subject.
the power of choice (“you stop playing the victim to external circumstances and take responsibility for your life – the private victory“) and
the power of context (“In everything you do, there should be collaborative and synergistic elements. Of course, there is work which is your work. However, that work should be embedded within a group of others and toward something much bigger. – the public victory”)
Hardy’s full article is excellent (even includes components of the assist we get from brain plasticity which I wrote about earlier).
I will never forget when an elder statesman in an organization (both dear to me) was “let go”, so to speak, because of a need for more “bang for the buck”. The expression was so toxic then and still carries a deep pain. It speaks to the tension between efficiency and effectiveness, and the pressing need for adaptability as our world rapidly changes. At the same time, we have to remember, in almost all situations, it’s people in the mix of these business processes.
Efficiency is a good thing. However, it must be secondary to effectiveness. Effectiveness is primary always. How best to assure both is to build an organizational culture of adaptability.
Tom Coyne has defined effectiveness, efficiency, and adaptability brilliantly in a published 2-page pdf*. Here they are:
“Effectiveness measures the extent to which the results you have achieved match your goals.” Strategy leaders set those goals, and the goals determine who does the work, when, where, and how.
“Efficiency measures the amount of scarce resources used to obtain the results achieved.” His use of the term “scarce resources” is thought-provoking. When we focus on efficiency – getting the most benefit from the least resources – we can lose our objective. Resources are precious. Full-stop. Whether they are people, time, or finances. We must consider how we spend resources always, and especially when they are scarce. However, if we miss the mark on our objective because we misspent our resources or allocated them unwisely, then we paid for efficiency with effectiveness. A poor transaction.
Gen. McChrystal, speaks to this, in his book Team of Teams (more about this book follows). He puts a captivating twist on it in his challenge: “If I told you that you weren’t going home until we win—what would you do differently?” We can’t focus primarily on efficiency when effectiveness is the outcome we desire. Adaptability is really what will get us to where we want to go.
“Adaptability measures the change in Effectiveness and Efficiency for a given level of change in the agent or organization’s environment…One of our great failings as human beings is our reluctance to acknowledge the full implications of living in a world of complex adaptive systems. The causes of yesterday’s success are impossible to fully understand, and unlikely to be replicable to the same extent in the future…We naturally try to succeed again in the future, using the approach that worked in the past, with frequently disappointing and occasionally fatal results.”
Coyne goes on to write about how to work these processes out toward business and employee/team success in a changing world.
Good stuff to know and implement.
Early on in my career, one of the mantras I heard repeatedly was this:
“The three most important things to learn in your work is flexibility…flexibility…flexibility.”
That later changed, in company vernacular, to “fluidity” x 3. The only problem was the temptation to decide for myself what was fluidity/flexibility and what was not. This is where silos and self-interest evolve when we’re not even aware, until we find ourselves not being successful (effective/efficient). In the very work we’ve immersed ourselves in for years…working hard, but not working as smart as we could have. [I know, that hurts – and it will take more than efficiency gurus to bring us out of such a predicament healthy.]
It is possible to turn the ship around…and it takes a whole crew.
Decentralized, empowered teams. Trust. Transparency and collaboration in decision-making. Broad information-sharing. Ownership in real time not just in philosophy. Bringing down silos and working together to nurture an organizational culture where we expect change and thrive in it.
What focus yields a win-win in our workplace? Both from the human side and the business side of performance and organizational culture. What can we do to enhance our business processes – whether we are in management or on the frontlines of our organization?
The following quotes should help to stir thinking. They are out of the book Team of Teams by retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, currently with The McChrystal Group.
“In complex environments, resilience often spells success, while even the most brilliantly engineered fixed solutions are often insufficient or counterproductive.” – Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams
“In place of maps, whiteboards began to appear in our headquarters. Soon they were everywhere. Standing around them, markers in hand, we thought out loud, diagramming what we knew, what we suspected, and what we did not know. We covered the bright white surfaces with multicolored words and drawings, erased, and then covered again. We did not draw static geographic features; we drew mutable relationships—the connections between things rather than the things themselves.” – Gen. McChrystal, Team of Teams
[Sidebar: I had the great pleasure of writing for such a team over the last 3 years. It was a privilege to see that level of creativity and collaboration, in a team of equals, birthing a workplace initiative in sync with a changing world. Amazing experience.]
“Specifically, we restructured our force from the ground up on principles of extremely transparent information sharing (what we call “shared consciousness”) and decentralized decision-making authority (“empowered execution”).” – Gen. McChrystal, Team of Teams
“In a resilience paradigm, managers accept the reality that they will inevitably confront unpredicted threats; rather than erecting strong, specialized defenses, they create systems that aim to roll with the punches, or even benefit from them. Resilient systems are those that can encounter unforeseen threats and, when necessary, put themselves back together again.” – Gen. McChrystal, Team of Teams
“View your leadership as being less about giving top-down orders and more about cultivating those who follow you, empowering them to make the right decisions. Many leaders are tempted to lead like a chess master, striving to control every move, when they should be leading like gardeners, creating and maintaining a viable ecosystem in which the organization operates.This is especially applicable to private sector leaders; the world is moving too quickly for those at the top to master every detail and make every decision. Empowering, cultivating, and ultimately serving those who follow you will unlock massive potential within your organization, allowing you to solve for problems in real time.” – Gen. McChrystal, Forbes.com