I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.
The second grouping of servant leadership practices presented in the model emphasizes the importance of understanding the priority of people. In this second cluster of servant leadership practices, leadership behaviors associated with effective teams include: (1) valuing and appreciating, (2) creating a place for individuality, and (3) understanding relational skills. Last week, we highlighted Valuing and Appreciating People. This week we take on Leadership Practice 5—Creating a Place for Individuality.
Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality
There is a tendency in some organizational circles to simple view people as cogs in a larger organizational system. But who likes it, and flourishes, when they are viewed in such a mechanistic and replaceable fashion?
Beyond the Cog
In contrast to this approach, servant leaders help to Create a Place for Individuality in their work with their teams. Outcomes matter in organizations. So does holding followers accountable to these outcomes—a point emphasized in this larger research study. But it is also vital to recognize that outcomes are not necessarily achieved in a uniform manner.
In contrast to approaches that emphasize follower uniformity, this leadership practice emphasizes allowing for individuality of style and expression in followers as well as accepting followers for who they are as individuals. In contrast to the overly mechanized systems encouraged in some twentieth century managerial models, this study challenges twenty-first century leaders to remember the individual and to create space for individuality in work performance.
Research participants note the importance of simple expressions of individuality. Of the expressions noted were dimensions of flexibility such as work style, clothing, and office hours. Participants also noted that flexibility for follower expressions of individuality are best supported through the avoidance of micromanaging leadership behaviors.
Moving Toward Common Culture over Uniformity
One participant noted, “Set strategic goals, but allow individuals to engage in creative processes to get there.” On the theme of how follower individuality coincides with organizational unity, participants noted that commonality at the level of mission, vision, goals, and values provides “the glue that holds the organization together,” and that “under this umbrella there is ample room for individuality.”
Arguing that great leaders find ways to meld the needs of individuals with the needs of an organization, one participant argues that this “requires the leader to take an active interest in the capacity of those under their leadership.” They continue noting the importance of assigning responsibility and delegating authority “based on the giftedness of the follower in alignment with the project or task to be completed.”
Moving Toward Individuality and Individualized Consideration
All of this requires an individualized consideration similar to what Bass and Avolio put forward in transformational leadership theory. This calls leaders to a higher level of investment in creating space for individuals to work uniquely toward common goals. While it is sometimes easier to mandate uniformity and conformance, taking the extra time and effort to create space for individuality is a valuable leadership practice that is significantly related to effectiveness in this study.
While a focus on outcomes is important, how are you creating a place for individuality in your work with followers? Think through a step or two you can take in appreciating and providing space for the individuality of your team members.
Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:
|Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders|
|Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People|
|Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness|
Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”