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.

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.

————————-

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

————————-

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

Valuing and Appreciating People (Leadership Practice 4)

Value, GotCredit, Flickr

Value, 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 around three broad areas: Beginning with Authentic Leaders, Understanding the Priority of People, and Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Understanding the Priority of People

I’ve walked through the first grouping in previous posts. 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. This week we take on Leadership Practice 4— Valuing and Appreciating.

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Understanding the priority of people begins with a basic commitment to Valuing and Appreciating people. While this includes the communication of appreciation for follower contribution as a primary focus, it also emphasizes the value and trust of people at a more basic level.

Jim Laub notes the following about valuing people and organizational health:

Healthy organizations have a different view of people. People are to be valued and developed, not used.”

This gets at a core characteristic of servant leadership. As a leader, do you view the people primarily as resources to be used and deployed, or do you view people as intrinsically valuable?

The Innate Value of People

Laub continues:

“Leaders accept the fact that people have present value not just future potential. People seem to have an innate ability to know whether or not they are being valued…whether or not they are trusted. Effective leaders accept a person’s value up front. They give them the gift of trust without requiring that they earn it first. As leaders work with people in organizations they will serve them by displaying the qualities of Valuing People.”

Many leaders value their followers after the followers have demonstrated their value to the organization. Consistent with Laub’s comments, servant leaders take valuing people to another level. Servant leaders value people not only for what they contribute, but rather value them primary for who they are as people.

Valuing Leads to Appreciating

Several research participants highlight similar observations, noting the importance of trust in valuing and appreciating followers when they are “given responsibility and released to accomplish the task without second guesses,” and when “verbally appreciate[ing] them as people first, then for their contribution to the team.” Another participant noted that a follower feels valued and appreciated “when a leader authentically and legitimately applauds the performance of a follower and acknowledges their unique contributions with concrete examples.” Such expressions must be connected with reality, though, and in the words of this participant must be “genuine, deserved, and observable” if such expressions are to be effective.

How Do You View Your People?

So how are you doing on this front? Are you valuing people for who they are, or merely for what they contribute to the organization? Is this valuing of people translating into expressions of appreciation? Teams flourish as members are valued and appreciated in the journey toward effectiveness.

————————-

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

————————-

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