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.

The Web of Work: Serving and Being Served through Work

Web, david reid, Flickr

Web, david reid, Flickr

Have you paused recently to reflect on how interdependent we are in our work and within an economy? For those with independent streaks, this question might be received as insulting. But I mean this in the best sense of interdependence. No-one truly is independent. We rely upon countless others throughout our day, and others rely upon us.

Work, at its core, is the means by which we serve one another in a society and an economy. Through my work I contribute to society and make myself useful to others. And through the work of others, I am served countless times throughout my day. And lest we miss this, work has both paid and unpaid expressions. From a parent working at home to care for children, to those serving in paid positions, our work—paid and unpaid—is most often the primary way we serve others.

Work becomes a beautiful web or network of service.

My Work of Serving Others Today

My work today happens to involve traveling to a conference. Because of this, my work for the day is fairly straightforward. First, I’m using time on the plane to (hopefully) serve you the reader of this blog through my work of reflecting on the meaning of work. Second, I’m going to a conference that will allow me to gain insights for my role as an academic administrator so that I may better understand how I to serve the students enrolled in the doctoral program I lead.

So this particular day, I hope that the recipients of my work are you and my doctoral students. Through my work (some of it paid and some of it unpaid), I am serving others today.

The Work of Others Serving Me Today

But the web of work does not end there by a long shot. It is barely lunchtime as I write this, and I have been served by innumerable individuals who have served me through their work.  Though I will certainly miss countless categories, consider with me the multitude of individuals who have already served me today through their work before I have even reached the lunch hour.

Waking Up

  • The furniture makers who made the bed I slept in
  • The home builders who made the home in which I live and woke up
  • The inventors and manufacturers who developed the alarm clock used to wake me

Preparing for the Day

  • The workers who made the modern conveniences of a shower, toilet, and sink
  • The product developers and distributors who make simple toiletries available so I may shave and brush my teeth
  • The clothing designers, manufactures, and laborers involved in the creation and distribution of the clothing I am wearing today

Traveling to, from, within, and in between Airports

  • The countless individuals from Henry Ford on involved in providing a reliable Ford vehicle for me to drive to the airport this morning
  • The massive number of individuals who participated in the planning, construction, and maintenance of the roadway and traffic network facilitating a smooth drive to the airport
  • The countless number of engineers, builders, and beyond involved with constructing and maintaining the parking ramp, elevator, trams, escalator, restaurants, concourses, restrooms, jet ways, tarmacs, runways, and airplanes I have encountered and relied upon today
  • The technology experts involved in bringing smartphones, computers, monitors, and avionics involved in my work and transportation today
  • The many airport and airline employees who helped with scheduling, checking in, loading bags, fueling planes, boarding, serving passengers on the plane, flying, navigating, and those attending to safety through air traffic control

Brightening the Day — Back to the Individual

And while I’m missing an endless number of categories and individuals who have served me today through products and services provided and used—even though I have never met most of them—sometimes we have the chance to get to see the person serving us and greet them by name.

One of those individuals was Gwen. Gwen served me through her work today by brewing and handing me my coffee this morning at the airport. Though a small act, Gwen brightened the early morning at the start of my travel with kindness and caffeine. While she is just one individual, Gwen reminds me that the countless number of others who served me today through their work also have names and faces.

Work and Economy is about People

At the end of the day, economy and work are not just about money, labor, and exchange. Economy and work are ultimately about people and how these people contribute to the well-being and flourishing of others. In a modest way, I’m serving people through my particular work today. In exchange for this modest commitment to serve others, in return I have been served by thousands, if not millions, through the products and services that have facilitated my work and travel today.

In light of this, I am grateful. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve others through my work. I’m grateful for other people who likewise serve me through their work. Work provides a network of service. Work, in a very real way, becomes the glue that holds us together as a society.

An Invitation to Recognize and Value People in Their Work

So, I invite you to pause in the midst of your day.

Pause and recognize how you are serving others in your work today, both the paid or unpaid dimensions of your work. Pause and recognize how others are serving you through their work (again, paid or unpaid). Be grateful for these observations. Be grateful for these people. And, allow this thankfulness to spill over into expressions of grace and gratitude as you interact with others in your day. We live in a delightful Web of Work.