Priority #1: Servant Leadership and Follower Focus

Focus_ihtatho

Photo Credit: Focus, by ihtatho, Flickr

Last week I shared my 4 Top Leadership Priorities.These priorities are central to what I teach others about leadership in classes, and these priorities inform how I want to lead personally.

In this post, I want to settle in on the first priority identified in that post: Servant Leadership and Follower Focus.

Greenleaf on Servant Leadership

Robert K. Greenleaf was one of the first people to write about servant leadership in the contemporary literature. Although it is easily argued that servant leadership has ancient roots, I’m grateful for voices like Greenleaf who brought attention to the practice of servant leadership in the context of modern organizations. Here is one look at Greenleaf’s priorities:

“The servant-leader is servant first…. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first…. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?”

Greenleaf was working out his approach to leadership in the context of AT&T at the time of these reflections. Others have gone on to engage this “servant first” approach to leadership in diverse organizational sectors since then. At the core of this servant first approach to leadership is the focus leaders place on follwers.

In my own dissertation research, I discovered that servant leadership practices are not only a good idea, but that they also are effective. Here are a few resources that point such findings: (IJLS Journal Article; PIL blog series). 

The Core of Servant Leadership is Follower Focus

What differentiates servant leadership from other approaches to leadership? The short answer is “follower focus.”

Stone, Russell, and Patterson put it this way:

“The principal difference between transformational leadership and servant leadership is the focus of the leader…. The overriding focus of the servant leader is upon service to their followers…. The stress of servant leadership is upon the leader’s aim to serve. This desire to serve people supersedes organizational objectives. Servant leadership is a belief that organizational goals will be achieved on a long-term basis only by first facilitating the growth, development, and general well-being of the individuals who comprise the organization.”

In a previous post, I expressed this concept in the following manner:

While the organization as a whole needs to be externally focused (serving its customers, constituents, or mission), the primary focus of the leader must be on serving and caring for the followers who are directly responsible for fulfilling the organization’s mission.

At the end of the day, servant leaders care deeply about organizations meeting their goals. However, this commitment starts with care for and focus on followers.


 

When you consider your own approach to leadership and where your focus lies, where do followers fit into your primary commitments?

When honestly answered, are followers viewed primarily as a means to organizational ends, or are followers at the core of your leadership commitments, and thus valued primarily for who they are rather than simply what they contribute?

In my next post, I’ll turn my attention to the second leadership priority that further connects follower focus to organizational transformation and goal attainment.

As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Please share them below.

Harnessing the Hope of Humility: Timeless Wisdom for Today

basin_Flood G.

Photo Credit: basin, by Flood G., Flickr

In seasons of political posturing, humility rarely is modeled by current and aspiring politicians. But into such seasons, the hope of humility stands in stark contrast and calls for us to harness this hope for the good of our communities

In this post, let’s journey back to the time of Jesus Christ in order to explore the timeless wisdom of servant-hearted humility.

A Mother’s Request

Nearly 2000 years ago, a mother motivated by love for her boys made a request. She asked Jesus to allow her sons to sit in the places of honor at His right and left in His kingdom. As might be expected, the other ten disciples did not look favorably on this parental power play.

But Jesus harnessed the occasion as an opportunity to teach a kingdom reality: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26).

We find here a profound reality in Jesus’ teaching—humility in the form of service is at the heart of leadership in the economy of Jesus. One of my colleagues notes that at its heart, this passage is calling leaders to positions of low status and high service.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

The low status & high service motif of Jesus was not mere rhetoric, however. Jesus lived and modeled this principle. Take, for instance, one of the most powerful sermons ever—the sermon preached with a basin and a towel.

In John 13, we find Jesus at a Passover feast with His disciples. With divine audacity, Jesus rises from the meal, wraps a towel around his waist, and stoops low, with heavenly humility, as He begins to wash His disciples’ feet. We see in this amazing account the words of Jesus made alive: “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus lived the kingdom principle of low status & high service.

The Hope of Humility

The timeless teaching of Jesus that modeled and called His followers to leadership marked by low status and high service stands in stark contrast the inverted high status and low service motif modeled by so many leaders in our day. What such leaders fail to realize, however, is that in the case of humble service it is not only good wisdom but also good business.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great asks, “What catapults a company from merely good to truly great?” His answer is refreshing—leaders who combine fierce resolve and humility are key.

It’s often viewed as counter-intuitive. Usually humility is associated with pushovers rather than leaders of great companies. But amazing as this is, biblical humility is just what the cultural and corporate doctors have ordered.

Harnessing the Hope of Humility

So how is the hope of humility to be harnessed?  Let me offer three “prescriptions.”

Prescription 1: Be an Apprentice in the School of Humility

The first prescription is to be an apprentice in the School of Humility. Humility is by its very nature something that is learned through participation. 2 Chronicles 7:14 calls us to this apprentice-like participation: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Harnessing the hope of humility begins as a participating apprentice.

Prescription 2: Follow the Man from Galilee

In the School of Humility, our apprenticeship is under the Master Practitioner—Jesus, the servant from Galilee. When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He called them to a life-trajectory of humble service saying, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Following the Master Servant furthers a harnessing of the hope of humility.

Prescription 3: Go to the Grace

The final prescription is simply this: Go to the grace. In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Do you wish to harness the hope of humility?  Go to God’s graceful place of humility. You’ll be glad you did.


 

It’s difficult to imagine how one person’s actions of humility and service could change the course of history, but this is exactly what happened through the life of Jesus as He began to turn the world right side up. Applying these prescriptions will help us begin the process of aligning the course of our lives with His. Applying these prescriptions will help us to harness the hope of humility.

#5 … Top 10 Posts from 2015 — 9 Effective Leadership Practices

 

Number Nine_Mario-Klingemann

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015. In the coming weeks I will be taking time both to share new content and to share some of the top viewed posts from the past year.

The #5 post from 2015 was …

9 Effective Leadership Practices

Servant leadership is a good idea. The core of servant leadership is about leaders placing follower needs at the highest priority level. Most would agree this is a good idea. The question many do raise, however, is whether or not this good idea is also effective?

Thankfully social science research methods can help us. One of the benefits of social science research is its capacity to confirm the utility or effectiveness of practices that are inherently valid philosophically or biblically.

Good Ideas that Work

For instance we do not need research to inform us that humility is important for individuals and leaders; this is an argument that may be made practically, philosophically and biblically. The validity and importance of humility may be argued apart from research. However, research can come alongside logic and experience to confirm the utility or effectiveness of an idea like humility. This is what was found by Jim Collins in his research on Level Five Leaders. Not only is leader humility ethically-good and biblically-consistent as an idea—an argument that may be made biblically, philosophically, and practically—Jim Collins found through research that leader humility is also effective.

Here’s a link to the Purpose in Leadership #5 post from 2015:

9 Effective Leadership Practices

#10 … Top Posts from 2015 — Strategic Foresight

In-the-middle-of-nowhere_Brian-Koprowski

Photo Credit: In the middle of nowhere, by Brian Koprowski, Flickr

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015. In the coming weeks I will be taking time both to share new content and to share some of the top viewed posts from the past year.

The #10 post from 2015 was …

Strategic Foresight:
The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

This was one of two posts on strategy that made the top ten in 2015. In the article, I argue that in light of the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in, it is a mandate for leaders to learn from the past and present and look to the future with strategic foresight.

Strategic Foresight

Clarity and foresight are essential leadership characteristics. Organizations and teams need leaders who can see clearly in the midst of confusing organizational and environmental realities.

THE VUCA WORLD

We are increasingly experiencing what some refer to as a “VUCA” world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. More than ever, we need leaders with vision, clarity, and foresight.

What do leaders need to do in light of such a world?

Read more about the need for leaders to engage with strategic foresight in Purpose in Leadership’s #10 post from 2015. Here’s the link to continue reading…

Strategic Foresight:
The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

Leading Organizations Fit for People

Facescape_Viewminder

Facescape, by Viewminder, Flickr

Organizations are increasingly utilizing data-based approaches to decision making. These approaches provide helpful insights for organizational leaders aiming to be responsive to their constituents and markets.

Losing Sight of People

Noting this trend from a marketing perspective, the following quote from a recent Harvard Business Review article identifies a hidden danger such approaches:

“As marketers continue their love affair with analytics,
there’s a danger that they’ll lose sight of their customer’s humanity.”

In marketing circles, the “4 P’s” of marketing are often emphasized:  Products, Price, Place, & Promotion. In my MBA program, my Marketing Management professor emphasized that those leading in the realm of marketing must not forget about a fifth “P”—People.

Servant Leadership in the Organization

Whether in the realm of marketing or in broader discussions of organizational leadership, such insights are vital. Leaders must remember the priority of people in the work of lead. Leaders must never lose sight of the humanity of their followers, team members, customers, and constituents.

From a servant leadership perspective (Find my blog series on Servant Leadership here), the core of effective leadership involves putting the needs of followers before the self-interest of leaders. But such principles of leader-service are not just about certain leadership roles. It involves looking at the totality of the organization and working hard to keep the focus on people.

Management 2.0

Gary Hamel discusses such principles around the concept of what he calls Management 2.0. At the heart of Management 2.0 is asking the question of whether or not our organizations are fit for human beings.

The industrial revolution brought about significant management strides that contributed to increased levels of organizational performance. But such strides often came with a cost of dehumanizing organizations.

Within the Management 2.0 movement, organizations are again seeing significant change in management that contributes to increased performance. In contrast to previous approaches to management, these recent changes focus on advancing organizational goals while also recognizing and working with people’s humanity. They focus on making organizations that are fit for human beings, not just fit for organizational output.

Principles of Management 2.0

Principles often associated with Management 2.0 often include the following:

  1. Openness
  2. Community
  3. Meritocracy
  4. Activism
  5. Collaboration
  6. Meaning
  7. Autonomy
  8. Serendipity
  9. Decentralization
  10. Experimentation
  11. Speed
  12. Trust

Leading Organizations Fit for People

As you consider the role you play in your organization, how are you using your leadership and management responsibilities to move toward principles that take the humanity of your people seriously? Are you working to help create organizations that are fit for humans?

Perhaps you see other principles that help to nurture this type of culture. I’d love to read your thoughts. Please take a moment to share below.

 

Providing Accountability (Leadership Practice 9)

inspire, by Sarah Parrott, Flickr

inspire, by Sarah Parrott, Flickr

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.

This week we will take on the final of the 9 practices—Providing Accountability. Before I dive into the final one, here is a snapshot of the core practices associated with team effectiveness:

Cluster 1—Beginning with Authentic Leaders

  • Practice 1: Modeling what Matters
  • Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation
  • Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster 2—Understanding the Priority of People

  • Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating
  • Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality
  • Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster 3—Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

  • Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity
  • Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing
  • Practice 9: Providing Accountability

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

The final servant leadership practice included in this model is the leadership behavior of Providing Accountability. Rather than servant leadership being a weak form of leadership that is disinterested in results, this leadership behavior emphasizes the priority of holding people accountable for reaching their goals.

Misconceptions about Servant Leadership

When the topic of servant leadership comes up, this point is often a misconception I hear. People fear that if they are committed to serving others, they will lose authority in the eyes of followers or their acts of kindness will become opportunities for others to take advantage of what others view as a “weak” form of leadership.

These are misconceptions of servant leadership, though. Servant leaders do make hard decisions. Servant leaders at times do need to terminate employees. Leaders who are committed to serving their followers don’t simply do the job for those followers, they support and resource their followers toward success, and they then hold followers accountable toward agreed upon outcomes. Although servant leadership begins with a focus on followers, servant leadership also “has teeth” and includes a commitment to providing accountability and is consistent with a commitment to valuing and developing followers.

Clear Communication

As with the leadership practice of communicating with clarity, several research participants reaffirmed the priority of clear communication in the providing of accountability for followers. In contrast to some of the negative examples provided by participants—examples where leaders failed to clearly communicate and then terminated or disciplined employees based on poor performance—there was a unified called to proactive and honest communication around expectations and follower performance.

Open and Honest Evaluation

One participant noted “I prefer honest performance evaluations—those which acknowledge both strengths and growth fronts and clearly set goals that can be reached quarterly and annually.” Another participant similarly noted that, “honest and open communication that is regular and consistent at setting and reaching goals is very effective in developing accountability and building trust.”

Inspect What You Expect

Another participant notes that “leaders inspect what they expect,” and this is arguably consistent with the leader-love that characterizes a servant leaders commitment to serving the needs of the follower over the needs of the leader. Engaging in direct and honest conversation with followers around outcomes that are important to followers and the organization provides an opportunity for follower development, a tangible factor associated with valuing and developing people. Servant leadership is not about caring for followers or providing accountability. Servant leadership includes both. Are you inspecting what you expect when it comes to follower goal accomplishment?

Some Final Thoughts

The model covered these past weeks is about (1) beginning with authentic leaders, (2) understanding the priority of people, and (3) helping followers navigate toward effectiveness. We’ve covered the 9 core leadership practices associated with team effectiveness that are both presented in this model and supported by related research.

As you seek to grow as a leader, these 9 effective leadership practices will serve both you and your followers well. Take time in the coming week to think through one or two action steps based on these practices. Enjoy the journey of growing as a servant leader.

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Supporting and Resourcing Followers (Leadership Practice 8)

Support, by GotCredit, Flickr

Support, by GotCredit, Flickr

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 third grouping of servant leadership practices in the model emphasizes clear communication and the supporting of individuals toward outcomes for which they are accountable. This third cluster of servant leadership practices is focused on helping followers navigate toward effectiveness and include the following practices: (1) communicating with clarity, (2) supporting and resourcing, and (3) providing accountability.  Last week, we highlighted Communicating with Clarity. This week we take on Leadership Practice 8— Supporting and Resourcing Followers.

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing Followers

In addition to clear communication, followers also need their servant leaders to practice supporting and resourcing. On productive teams, leaders and followers focus their energies on movement toward important goals. They recognize that it is not just about being busy, but also being productive. As followers work toward these goals, servant leaders focus on serving the followers through supporting and resourcing activities. They help to remove obstacles that hindering follower progress. They help to provide encouragement and motivation. They help to provide the necessary resources that followers will need to get the job done.

Equipping and Empowering

Rather than leaders viewing their primary role as driving followers toward production, a commitment to supporting and resourcing allows leaders to focus on serving followers toward their success and being responsive to their needs as they work toward organizational goals. Servant leadership is not about doing people’s work for them. It is about creating a context within which followers will flourish in their work.

Leadership supporting and resourcing captures the heart of what is included in James Kouzes and Barry Posners’ theme of Enable Others to Act in their five practices of exemplary leadership. Leaders take a proactive posture toward followers. They work to remove barriers and build bridges so that followers may thrive in their responsibilities.

A Proactive Approach to Leading

On this theme of supporting and resourcing followers, research participants emphasized the importance of removing barriers, and one participant identified the special importance of being active in the identification of needs. They noted that the leader “should be the first to ask ‘what do we need to get the job done’ versus being passive, waiting for requests to come to him/her and then trying to put the requests off as long as possible.”

Other research participants add that because leaders are in the position to see the best allocation of resources and to draw out the gifting of human resources so that followers are fulfilled in their work, it is important that leaders share explanations with followers regarding how resources are apportioned and when resources are not available for certain needs.

Another participant’s response captures the essence of this servant leadership behavior noting that leaders carry out this function best when they release power and resources to members to accomplish critical and expected initiatives.

Setting Up Followers for Success

If the mission of the community matters, then leaders have the responsibility to provide the support and resources necessary for followers to work toward their goals in light of this mission. In your work as a leader, are you taking a passive or active posture toward supporting and resourcing followers? Are you working to remove obstacles that are barriers to follower work performance? Are you working to provide the necessary support and resources that builds bridges to effective follower work performance?

Take some time in the week to consider how you may more effectively support and resource your followers in their work toward the mission of your organization or team.

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”