At The Ken Blanchard Companies, most of our work in the past focused on leader behavior and how to improve leadership style and methods. We attempted to change leaders from the outside. But through the years we have become convinced that effective leadership starts with self perception—it’s an inside job. It is a question of the heart. It’s all about leadership character and intention. Why are you leading? Is it to serve or be served? Answering this question in a truthful way is so important, because you can’t fake being a servant leader. We believe that if leaders don’t get the heart part right, they simply won’t ever become servant leaders.
The most persistent barrier to being a servant leader is a heart motivated by self interest that looks at the world as a “give a little, take a lot” proposition. Leaders with hearts motivated by self interest put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of others who are affected by their thoughts and actions.
In a sense, developing a “servant’s heart” is a lifelong journey. It is my belief that you finally become an adult when you realize that life is about what you give rather than what you get. The shift from self-serving leadership to leadership that serves others is motivated by a change in heart. Servant leadership is not just another management technique. It is a way of life for those with servant’s hearts.
When some people hear the phrase servant leadership, they associate it with “soft management”—they think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. Yet you can, if you understand that there are two kinds of leadership involved in servant leadership: strategic leadership and operational leadership.
Strategic leadership has to do with vision and direction. This is the leadership aspect of servant leadership. The responsibility for this visionary role falls to the hierarchical leadership. Kids look to their parents, players look to their coaches, and people look to their organizational leaders for direction.
Once people are clear on where they are going, the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for the operational leadership task, which is all about implementation—the servant aspect of servant leadership. How do you make your vision happen? In a traditional organization, all the energy in the organization moves up the hierarchical pyramid as people try to be responsive to their bosses instead of focusing their energy on meeting the needs of their customers. Bureaucracy rules, and policies and procedures carry the day. This creates unprepared and uncommitted customer contact people who are trying to protect themselves and it leaves customers uncared for at the bottom of the hierarchy. This scenario doesn’t do much to move the organization in the desired direction toward accomplishing a clear vision. Servant leaders, on the other hand, feel their role is to help people achieve their goals. To do that, the traditional hierarchical pyramid is theoretically turned upside down so that the frontline people, who are closest to the customers, are at the top. Now the frontline people are responsible—able to respond—to the needs of the customers. In this scenario, leaders serve and are responsive to their people’s needs, training and developing them to accomplish established goals and live according to the vision.
Servant leadership is not soft management; it is management that not only gets great results but also generates great human satisfaction.
If you are interested in learning more about Servant Leadership, I will be speaking at the Servant Leadership Institute Winter Conference on February 1st-3rd in San Diego. For more information, or to buy tickets, please visit their website at http://sli2011winterconference.eventbrite.com/. See you there!