There are as many ways to lead as there are people. For some it requires careful planning, developing the required business skills as their career progresses, and building the contacts and reputation. This produces some remarkable leaders. However, it does not always lead to the most exciting people cultures, and therefore not always to best development of the bottom line.
This is left to those leaders who develop themselves and want to see others come into their own. They want to lead people, rather than just have followers. This may seem like a hair-split - but it is the hallmark of what Jim Collins calls ‘level-five leaders', and what Robert Greenleaf called ‘servant leadership'. Level-five is one step up from a strong ego drive. The person is there to do a job that requires ego and leadership skills, but recognises that they will achieve nothing unless people choose to follow. And the way to encourage loyalty, follower- ship and business effectiveness is through serving those who do the work.
Imagine, then, the impact on a business. A group of people working together, each striving to do their best, with the support and encouragement of leaders they respect and who respect them. Colleagues in these companies achieve more than they ever thought possible. CORGI takes on young adults who are having difficulty in finding a job. During three months of work experience they gain workplace and life skills that enable them to re-enter the job market with more of a chance. In fact, all have so far been invited to stay and are enthusiastically developing their careers in the company.
Keith is another wonderful example. He went to Bromford Housing Group as a temp and has just received his HNC and BSc in business information technology. Working with a servant leader who looks beyond first impressions, expecting there to be more than meets the eye, leads to all manner of discoveries.
Being a leader for money, kudos or control provides plenty of drive for success. Many have built strong and able organisations in just this way. However, they are always working within the limits of what they can imagine - they are the heart and author of the task. The business depends on their interest and initiative to thrive. The leader has built a concept, which other people have adopted and adapted to. Ideas that emerge from others will be measured against the concept and accepted or rejected accordingly. There is little room for development that does not fit into the prime mindset of the leader, with the limitation of their ability to imagine. Followers struggle when this type of leader moves on.
A servant leader has a mindset that is wider and more open to challenge or development. It is inclusive and encouraging of others - in fact, it depends upon them. The only limit is the imagination of the team. Using themselves as a vehicle, they can reach into new areas, opening up possibilities. No one person has all the answers, so accepting suggestions from every quarter is essential and increases the chance of success.
What is servant leadership and what difference does it make?
It is an unusual title and one that raises many an eyebrow. But just think for a moment about service. We look to excellent customer service as a way of supporting people to get what they need to move forward in their lives, whether that is going on holiday, buying a new house, getting a decent haircut or phoning directory enquiries. Companies known to give good service are highly successful. If service enables customers to move forward, why not offer the same to colleagues?
There are two distinct elements to the job of a servant leader:
leading - understanding the bigger picture for the business, project, team - how the wider environment is faring and the impact this will have; customer needs; internal constraints and leverage; vision for the future. On-going assessment of this information leads to a picture of where to go in the future. A clear strategy is built around this understanding and conveyed clearly to the people concerned.
serving - translating this direction is the next step of the process. The leader must build a picture so that colleagues can place their own work in the overall plan. For real involvement, people need to see the value, excitement and challenge of what they do. Command-control leaders tell. Servant leaders include, discuss, take ideas, look for ways to help people come on board, and celebrate every success that comes along.
Whatever your level in the business, the process is similar.
Allocate half a day in a quiet space to think about your team in the context of the wider business. Develop a clear picture of the outputs required, overlaps and connections to other areas, contact with customers, and relationships with suppliers/ competitors.
Build a plan of action taking all these elements into account. Include specific success measures. Be clear about the elements that are non-negotiable and what could develop through discussion with the team.
Call a team meeting to communicate your vision and plan to your team. Present your ideas and then open up the discussion. Your people do the work each day - they will have good ideas about the best way to move forward. Enabling this conversation and taking on the most appropriate ideas will build ownership and show respect
Ask how you can help them do the best job. Be prepared to give what is needed. This is not a ‘one-off' question - you must keep asking and looking for ways to help and support. Challenge them to do a better, different, more effective job, and put the necessary support behind it.
Help them build the competence necessary to do a good job, and trust them.