Service Leadership: Excellent leaders who focus on people and profits

A mural about servant leadership from Steve Jobs at Apple

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Organizations are very focused on financial success right now. Well, in fact, organizations have always been focused on financial success. It’s just that with economic uncertainty, it becomes equal more Clear. But organizations should focus equally on the people side of the business. Because it is the employees of the organization who will make the profits.

It reminded me of an interview I did with Dr. Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley after the release of their book, Simple Facts About Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Confidence. I first learned about the concept of servant leadership during a program I participated in years ago called Leadership Broward. The program is designed to encourage business leaders to become active community stewards. One of the concepts shared throughout the program was servant leadership.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of service leadership, here’s a little history. Servant leadership was started in the 1970s by Robert Greenleaf, director of management research at AT&T. Greenleaf’s mission was to study how the best leaders emerge in organizations. During the same time, Greenleaf was personally troubled by student unrest on college and university campuses.

Therefore, Greenleaf decided that the best way to understand the youth movement was to read a novel that was very popular among young people at the time. The novel was Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse. Spoiler alert: Journey to the East is about a group of people traveling to a new land. The group is accompanied by their butler, Leo, who takes care of their things and sings songs of encouragement. During the trip, Leo disappears. The group struggles to stay together and eventually breaks up. Several years later, the group realizes that Leo – the group’s butler –He really was their leader.

Inspired by the Leo figure, Greenleaf realizes that the key to leadership lies in “service” (aka focusing on the people you manage) and writes what is considered his most famous essay, “The Servant as Leader,” which identifies ten core competencies associated with service leadership. I’ve highlighted a few of them below.

  1. consciousness. Self-awareness of our strengths and weaknesses is essential. Leaders must open the doors of perception and see what is inside. This can be intimidating, but it is essential to present the reality and see things from an appropriate perspective.
  2. listen. Other leadership experts have written about the importance of listening. The leader responds to a problem by listening first. We need to move beyond the stereotype that leaders have all the answers. The truth is that leaders need to be open to admitting that they don’t.
  3. sympathy. Empathy is easy to say but in practice, it’s really hard. Leaders not only empathize with others, they accept them as they are. Great leaders seek to understand differences.
  4. Commitment to developing people. Great leaders help others become good leaders. You’ve heard me say before that a manager’s job is to hire and train their replacements. This is directly related to that. Good leaders are not threatened by others and make time to help the people on their team grow.
  5. insight. Greenleaf says leaders can sense the future. It is what gives leaders the “lead”. I like to think of this as leaders must use good decision making skills. And we must remember that a lack of decision-making can be seen as a moral failure.
  6. visualization. Leaders passionately set a clear vision, which engages and energizes the rest of the team. While I’m not sure we always have a clear vision of the future, I think we can do a good job of expressing our passions and intentions.

I will admit that Greenleaf’s writing has received some criticism over time. But reading his words, I find it surprising that decades later, many (if not all) characteristics are still associated with leadership. These competencies may not be called by the same name, but the attributes are similar.

It is a reminder that there is no clear path to being a good leader. If that’s the case, we’ll all have an index card with the steps to be a good leader and the conversation will end. Driving takes time and practice. But if there’s one thing we can all focus on to improve our leadership skills, perhaps serving the people around us first is a good place to start.

Photo taken by Charlene Luby while exploring the streets of New York, New York

Post-Servant Leadership Emerged: Great Leaders Put People & Profits First Over Waiter’s Hour.

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