Friday, July 24, 2009

What is "Servant Leadership?"

The term “Servant Leader” is largely based on the work of Robert Greenleaf. He describes a servant leader as someone whose first focus is on serving rather than leading. One of the tests that Greenleaf talks about is whether those served grow as persons. There are 11 generally accepted characteristics of servant leadership:

1. The leader Chooses to lead
That is to say, even if this person is not in a leadership position, they have made the choice to act as a leader. Or, if this person IS in a leadership position, they have chosen to actually behave in the manner of a leader rather than just occupying the position and exerting authority.

2. There is a focus on Listening
Communication is two-way rather than just an "edict from on high." This develops a relationship based on mutual respect. There is often much more experience and knowledge on your team than you are aware. Without listening, you would be giving up a significant asset.

3. The leader has Empathy for those he leads
The leader truly identifies with those that are led. There is a genuine concern for the well being of the entire team. This is especially important when there is change occurring in the organization. Whether it is implementing a new warehouse management system or a major reorganization, change creates anxiety.

4. The leader is interested in Healing
The lines between work life and home life are more blurred than ever. Servant leaders recognize that their team does not function in isolation from whatever challenges they may have personally.

5. The leader is highly Aware
Team members believe that the servant leader has a high level of awareness of what is going on. This includes organizational matters locally and corporately. It also includes, by virtue of the leaders listening ability and empathy, issues facing individual team members. This fits with what Dale Carnegie describes as having a "genuine interest" in other people.

6. The leader uses Persuasion rather than authority
This produces a higher level of cooperation amongst the team. One plant manager I recently interviewed referred to his style as being very "collaborative." During his collaborations with his team, the team often came up with solutions. Because it was their idea, they took more ownership of it. This is another example of building a relationship based on respect.

7. The leader encourages Conceptualization
It's not only the leader's vision that is is also the team's. In fact, the leader encourages their team to think of what "can be." Defiance Metal Products in Defiance, Ohio recently completed a restructuring of their manufacturing facility. The project was led by their Lean Champion, Mary Short. But what really made the project successful was that Mary's relationship with her maintenance team enabled some very creative and highly efficient solutions.

8. The leader has good Foresight
The leader has the ability to pick up on trends and to understand their implications for the future. They also can "see" what the future consequences will be from a decision made today.

9. There is a strong sense of Stewardship
Followers of a servant leader feel that the leader has a strong sense of "making the world a better place." The leader seeks to prepare the organization to contribute to the greater good.

10. There is a commitment to the Growth of others
Servant leaders tend to be mentors and have a strong desire to have their team become "all that they can be." They have the "ability to see ability" in their team and they position their team to be successful.

11. There is a strong sense of building Community
Followers of servant leaders typically will feel part of something more than just an organization. Often, followers will describe the organization as a "family" because of the connection that exists. The leader enjoys a position more than simply as "boss" or "supervisor."

In the end, servant leadership is a style that focuses significantly on the relationship with the followers. It requires setting aside ego in the interest of accomplishing tasks through the followers.

In other words, a servant leader seeks the success of their followers rather than accolades for themselves.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Definition of "Mentor"

Mentor: Someone whose hindsight can become your foresight. (anonymous)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Most Pressing Leadership Issue of Today

In his book “Lincoln on Leadership…Executive Strategies for Tough Times”, Donald Phillips shares examples of Lincoln’s leadership style during the Civil War. In explaining why he relieved Gen. John C. Fremont of his command in Missouri, Abraham Lincoln said "His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with".

It seems that we have not learned that lesson well enough because, almost 150 years later, leaders continue to struggle with how to deal with their people on a personal level. Specifically, leaders fear getting too close to their teams and so, they often distance themselves too much.

There are plenty of reasons for keeping your distance if you are a leader. The military has always had a policy against fraternization. Simply put, leaders were forbidden from socializing with their subordinates. It applies to all leader-subordinate relationships. Many companies in Corporate America have instituted similar rules feeling that maintaining a strictly business relationship amongst team members and leaders promotes the most efficient and trouble-free environment.

Another reason that leaders may create a rigid boundary between themselves and their team members is to prevent a perceived vulnerability. As people open themselves up to each other more, flaws may become evident. Some leaders may feel that they cannot afford to have their flaws exposed. They may feel that it undermines their authority or credibility. This idea, itself, is flawed because the reality is that leadership is not derived from authority. A person in authority MAY be a leader…but it is not always so. On the other hand, someone with no authority at all may still be a leader.

The risk to creating this distance is that no relationships are built. According to Roger Looyenga, then Chairman and CEO of Auto Owners Insurance, you cannot coach or mentor someone without entering into some sort of relationship with them. One of the current “buzz words” in the industry today is “engagement”. You simply cannot inspire true engagement of your team if you do not have a foundation of a positive relationship with them. It is actually essential to have some element of a personal nature in the relationship. The more levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that you can connect with, the more likely you will be successful. How will you know what it will take to touch someone in that way if you never really get to know them? Auto Owners has apparently done this well because earlier this year, they were recognized with the Dale Carnegie Leadership Award.

And speaking of Dale Carnegie, it’s not enough to just start asking personal questions. The attitude of sincerity and genuineness must go hand in hand with such efforts. In his ground-breaking book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Carnegie advises to “become genuinely interested in other people”. Obviously, the key word is genuine. Insincere gestures made in an attempt to build rapport will more often than not create a greater void in the relationship than existed previously.

These relationships that a leader must build are truly the most pressing issue in leadership today. Leaders are constantly being asked to do more, better, faster, and with fewer resources—today more than ever. Today’s business environment requires creativity, sacrifice, foresight, and determination. Those traits will likely be thriving in an organization whose leadership has built relationships based on genuine interest in its people.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Leadership Principles by an Apprentice Winner

Kelly Perdew is a West Point grad who, while serving in the Army, was a Ranger and an Intelligence Officer. Today, he is an entrepreneur and CEO of Probably, you would recognize him mostly for the fact that he was the Season 2 winner of Donald Trump's "Apprentice."

Here are some leadership principles that Kelly adapted from his military background and writes about in his book TAKE COMMAND: 10 Leadership Principles I Learned in the Military and Put to Work for Donald Trump.

Take the harder right over the easier wrong.

Do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it.

Be passionate about what you do, or do what you’re passionate about.

If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

There is no “I” in TEAM.

Selfless Service:
Give back.

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Up, down, and across your organization.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

The person with the most varied responses wins.

One thing you might wish to reflect upon as you look at Kelly's principles is that these are not merely "Leadership" principles. In every organization, success also requires people with a good sense of "Followership." Each of these principles can also be applied in that context.

In other words, the practice of leadership is not reserved to those in leadership positions.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Great Quote About Leadership

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves. (Lao-Tzu)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Follow up to "Yet another definition of Leadership"

It certainly is critical for a leader to be able to recognize the skills, talents, and abilities of their team members. But that is not enough. What good is it if you, as a leader, can see ability in your people, but you DO nothing about it? You MUST tell those people that you see that talent in them. And, you must find a way to put those people in positions to highlight their talents. This is what Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, refers to as "having the right people in the right seats on the bus".

Recently, I worked with a client who runs a manufacturing plant. He and his leadership team hired a talented young woman with a particular set of skills that the plant was lacking. The young woman would report directly to the department head who did not have the same skills as the new hire, but who had a different set of complimentary skills. My client thought that the match would be ideal. There was even thought that the new hire would develop into becoming the successor to the department head.

A few months later, my client was disappointed in the performance of the new hire. She was "rubbing people the wrong way" and seemed to have an overall abrupt nature to her. My client had come to the conclusion that she was just not going to be the person to succeed the department head. She just didn't have the people skills, my client said.

Upon some investigation, including a conversation with the department head, it became clear that the new hire was never put into a position to succeed. She was not given an opportunity to use the skills that the company had hired her for...and she had become frustrated. For one reason or another, the department head required to be involved in all aspects of the new hire's job. If another department had a question that was in the area of expertise of the new hire, she was not allowed to answer it directly. She had to first go to the department head. The new hire was being micromanaged.

This type of management might be appropriate to use with someone who has demonstrated a lack of competency or trustworthiness. But that was not the case with this new hire. She had never been given the chance to prove herself. She was hired, with great excitement, being told that she was going to be a great asset to the company. But after starting, the actions did not match the words.

Consequently, when the department head took a leave of absence, the performance and attitude of the new hire improved dramatically! She finally felt like she was doing what she was hired to do. The positive change was felt throughout the department.

Remember, the talent on your team wants to be "in the game." People are happiest and most productive when they feel that they are contributing. You, as a leader, NEED that the highest possible level. If your talented team members don't feel that way in your organization, they will likely find another organization where they will. And they make take others with them.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Yet another definition of "Leadership"

Here is a new definition of leadership that I have been rattling around in my head for a while. As far as I know, it is completely original and it fits perfectly with my core beliefs.

A leader...
has the ability
to SEE ability
in someone
who doesn't have the ability
to see that ability
in themselves.

Think of mentors, coaches, or other leaders you have known in your life. Didn't the good ones fit this definition?

The question is, do YOU?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

One Simple Thing to Improve Your Organization

Yep. One simple thing. Just one thing. My mind is going back to that scene in City Slickers where Jack Palance is telling Billy Crystal the same thing!

Here it is: In every interaction you have with people in your organization, make the focus THEM. Make it a goal for yourself to have each person who talks with you feel better than they did before they talked to you.

What? What about the "problem children" in my organization?

Were they always problems? Remind them of what you saw in them when you hired them. Tell them why they are important to the organization and how much they impact it.

Try it. People need to feel important and they will perform better when they do. You may even find that your own stress is reduced! What have you got to lose?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Economy Leaves Little Room for Leadership Mistakes

This column appears in the July 2009 issue of The Business Journal of West Central Ohio.

I don’t need to tell you that belts are being tightened all over the State of Ohio. Businesses of all sizes are working with reduced staff in an attempt to keep overhead low and the chance of survival high. Employees are being asked to do more, do it better, do it faster, and with less resources than ever before. It is a time like this that reminds me of a quote that is often attributed to John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame (even though the originator of the quote was actually a sportswriter named Heywood Broun): “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” In a leadership context, an appropriate version of this quote might be “Crisis does not create leaders, it reveals them.” Now is the time for the leaders of your organization to reveal themselves.

The department typically under the most pressure right now is human resources. The key word here is human. Your staff is your greatest asset…and they are coming to work stressed right now. Even if your particular business is doing well, your employees may still be bringing the stress of their spouse’s job with them to work. If your business is not doing well, just imagine the concerns that your employees may have. Many companies have laid off staff and the remaining staff may be wondering “am I next?” Stress may manifest itself in the form of increased sick time being taken by staff, lower morale, increased workplace violence, and a general decrease of productivity. None of those are a desirable outcome.

It may be obvious to you that this is not simply an HR issue. Rather, it is a critical issue that leaders at all levels of the business need to be concerned about. It is something to be proactive about. Consider these steps:

  1. Keep communications open and honest. Avoid spinning the situation to convey a contrived positive. Your employees are smart and can smell when they are being “fed a line." Such actions tend to reduce the credibility of the leader. When a leader needs to make tough decisions (such as reducing hours or benefits), credibility is essential in gaining the understanding of the staff.
  2. Increase the personal touch. Get out of your office and implement MBWA (Management by Walking Around). Spend time listening to your people. Try honestly to see things from their point of view and resist the urge to debate decisions. Let them do a great deal of the talking!
  3. Set goals (or adjust ones you already have). Give the staff something to work toward. This gives them something positive to focus on. Perhaps create productivity competitions between shifts.
  4. Include more people in strategy. If you have a strategic planning team, ensure that it has representation from every level of the company. This increases employee engagement and could improve implementation. People tend to take ownership of programs that they feel they had significant input in.
  5. Invest in your team. Too often, companies shut down all programs that can improve productivity in order to keep overhead down. This is actually the exact wrong thing to do at the exact wrong time. It’s akin to stopping maintenance on machines in the assembly line. Appropriate training can yield significant benefits in productivity and morale for your organization. You may want to focus on your “front line” managers. These are the people that are “getting it from all sides”. Investing in these managers can often yield the greatest dividends in the shortest amount of time.
  6. Handle mistakes carefully. Your team is made up of humans…and they make mistakes. Assuming that the offending employee is not a chronic problem, look at the mistake as a coaching opportunity. Your goal should be that the employee, after having the mistake addressed, should come away MORE engaged in what the company is doing. In other words, a mistake can be an opportunity to improve an employee. Handled incorrectly, however, the mistake might just turn into a chronic issue. In good times, disgruntled employees will leave. In times like this, disgruntled employees are more likely to stay because there are fewer options. But if they stay, they will not be a model employee. Chances are, their performance will continue to degrade and they will take up more of your time. Remember, employees don’t leave companies. They leave managers.
  7. Keep a long-term view. One of the greatest mistakes I am seeing companies make right now is making choices that are too heavily based on the short-term. These companies have cut everything to the bare minimum and are focused simply on reducing overhead. There is very little thought given to strategy. These companies have essentially succumbed to a self-induced business coma. When the economy starts to turn around, these companies will still be slumbering and will lose valuable time and consequently, market share.

With the right attitude, focus, and leaders in place, your company can avoid the business coma and leap ahead of your competition.