Creating a Place for Individuality (Leadership Practice 5)

Individuality !, Craig Sunter - Thanx 2 Mil..., Flickr

Individuality !, Craig Sunter – Thanx 2 Mil…, 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 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.

Beyond Uniformity

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.

Beyond Micromanaging

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.

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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.”

9 Effective Leadership Practices

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

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.

Servant Leadership: An Good Idea Whose Time Has Come

A similar argument may be made for understanding servant leadership. The importance and validity of servant-oriented leadership practices can be argued ethically, morally, philosophically, practically, and biblically apart from questions of its utility and effectiveness. However, it is powerful when leadership practices that are ethically-good and biblically-consistent are also found to be effective.

While servant leadership is a good and values-based model of leadership practice—and this alone is enough for leaders to utilize servant leadership practices—it is also helpful to know that servant leadership is effective. And indeed it is. Servant leadership is not only a good idea. It works.

9 Effective Leadership Practices

So what characterizes servant leadership? What leader behaviors are consistent with servant leadership practice?

Here are 9 core leadership practices that I’ve identified as not only good ideas, but also as effective.

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

In the coming weeks, I’ll unpack each of these practices and provide reflections both on why they are important and how leaders may use them to effectively guide their followers.

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