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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Leadership 13

You can't beat having your own coach, soul-mate, and historian right at your finger tips. And it's wonderful when she – Vickie Gray, – throws a wrench into my half baked thinking about Servant-Leadership with one comment.

Like: I think servant-leadership is attempting to solve an issue with authority.

Ooops! Another solution for symptoms – not the cause?

Let's continue the investigation on Servant-Leadership then and see what we can find.

"Larry Spears ( in the “Ten Characteristics of the Servant-Leader” ) distills Greenleaf’s (1977/2002) instrumental means into ten characteristics: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community (pp. 3-6). It is important to note that these characteristics are not simply traits or skills possessed by the leader; a century of research has rejected what Bass and Stogdill (1990) referred to as an “approach [that] tended to treat personality variables in an atomistic fashion, suggesting that each trait acts singly to determine the effects of leadership” (p. 87).
"Rather, servant-leadership is an ethical perspective on leadership that identifies key moral behaviors that leaders must continuously demonstrate in order to make progress on Greenleaf’s (1977/2002) “best test.” The “best test,” which gives us the ethical ends for action, combined with Spears’ distillation of traits that identified the means, create a powerful framework for a review of the literature that furthers the conceptual framework for servant-leadership.

"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 the most 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?"
As Vickie and I discussed the evolution of leadership thinking that got Greenleaf and Spears to the servant-leader concept and traits, the question became: What prompted all this?

If we take the idea at face value, it all seems quite nice, and perhaps too idealistic. I know I haven't encountered one of these animals personally. Mohandas Ghandi is the best candidate I can think of.

But if we consider the historical context of leaders, rulers, kings, princes, generals, etc. behaving in their own best interests, using their position to exercise power, and that leading to excesses of manipulation, subjugation, even slavery, the need for a kinder, gentler approach becomes clear.

Even in the lightest case of employees working for a domineering boss, the concept and traits of servant-leadership become appealing.

But not necessarily for everyone.
  • Some are very content to be led, directed, told what to do.
  • Some are looking for strong leadership in the form of an appealing vision – a picture of the future.
  • Some want a clear course of action laid out in a mission statement.
  • Some want the bounded responsibilities of specific tasks that don't include tactical or strategic thinking.
  • Some want a well defined “day job” that lets them have a life of their own outside of work.
  • Some don't want the boss asking them their opinion.
The point that Vickie and I got to was: In reaction to absolute power corrupting absolutely (or less disturbing versions of that), servant-leadership makes sense.

But the servant-leader traits listed should be part of any leaders behaviours because it simply just makes sense. They are the smart things to do. They get the best results.

And for more reasons than we might recognize on the surface.

Margaret Wheatley gave a talk on “The Work of the Servant Leader” at the 1999 conference. In her talk, which was published in Focus on Leadership, she said:
"There are many patterns, many beliefs, out there about leadership, about people, about motivation, about human development. The essential truth I’m discovering right now is that when we are together, more becomes possible. When we are together, joy is available. In the midst of a world that is insane, that will continue to surprise us with new outrages…in the midst of that future, the gift is each other. We have lived with a belief system that has not told us that. We have lived with a belief that has said, ‘We’re in it for ourselves. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Only the strong survive and you can’t trust anybody.’ That’s the belief that’s operating in most organizations if you scratch the surface. The belief that called you to be a servant-leader, I believe, is the belief of who we are as a species. We have need for each other. We have a desire for each other, and, more and more, I believe that if the real work is to stay together, then we are not only the best resource to move into this future—we are the only resource….We need to learn how to be together: that is the essential work of the servant-leader."
I like letting Margaret Wheatley have the last word.