Let’s Clear Up Some Misunderstandings about Servant Leadership

When people hear the phrase servant leadership, they are often confused. Their assumption is that it means managers should be working for their employees, who in turn would decide what to do, when to do it, where to do it, and how to do it. If that’s what servant leadership is all about, it doesn’t sound like leadership to them at all. It sounds more like inmates running the prison, or managers trying to please everyone.

The problem is that these folks don’t understand servant leadership.  They think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. Yet you can, if you understand that there are two aspects to servant leadership:

  • A visionary/direction, or strategic, role—the leadership aspect of servant leadership; and
  • An implementation, or operational, role—the servant aspect of servant leadership.

The traditional hierarchical pyramid is effective for the leadership aspect of servant leadership. People look to their leaders for vision and direction. While leaders should involve experienced people in shaping a compelling vision, setting goals, and defining strategic initiatives, the ultimate responsibility remains with the leaders themselves and cannot be delegated to others. Once employees are clear on where they are going, the leader’s role shifts to the task of implementation—the servant aspect of servant leadership. The question now is: How do we live according to the vision and accomplish the established goals?

Most organizations and leaders get into trouble in the implementation phase of the servant leadership process. With self-serving leaders at the helm, the traditional hierarchical pyramid is kept alive and well. When that happens, who do employees think they work for? The managers above them. The minute an employee thinks they work for the person above them for the implementation process, they are assuming the manager is responsible and their job is being responsive to that manager’s whims or wishes. Now “manager watching” becomes a popular sport and people get promoted based on their upward-influencing skills. As a result, all the energy of the organization is moving up the hierarchy, away from customers and the frontline folks who are closest to the action. Servant leaders know how to correct this situation by philosophically turning the traditional hierarchical pyramid upside down when it comes to implementation.

When that happens, who is at the top of the organization? The frontline employees who work with the customers. Who is really at the top of the organization? The customers themselves. Who is at the bottom now? The “top” management. As a result, who works for whom when it comes to implementation? The leader works for their employees. This one change, although it seems minor, makes a major difference. The difference is between who is responsible and who is responsive.

When the organizational pyramid is turned upside down, rather than employees being responsive to management, they become responsible—able to respond—and the manager’s job as a servant leader is to be responsive to them. This creates a very different environment for implementation. If a manager works for the employee, as servant leaders do, what is the manager’s purpose now? To help their employees accomplish goals, solve problems, and live according to the vision.

Servant leadership is when a manager’s mindset and skill set are focused on serving others first. This new approach, combined with a clear strategic direction, creates a 1+1=3 environment where leaders develop great relationships, achieve great results, and delight their customers.


Would you like to learn more about servant leadership concepts?  Join me for a free online Livecast featuring 20 different authors, CEOs, and thought leaders from all walks of life.  It’s a two-hour exploration of the new Servant Leadership in Action book I co-edited with Renee Broadwell, which goes on sale March 6.  The event is free, courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers and The Ken Blanchard Companies.  More than 3,800 people are registered already.  I hope you can join us. Use this link to register or learn more: Servant Leadership in Action Livecast.

Moving from Success to Significance

Several years ago, my friend Bob Buford wrote a great book called Halftime (Zondervan, 1997). One of the key points he makes is, later in life, most people like the idea of moving from success to significance—from getting to giving. But you don’t have to wait until your life is half over. If you want to find an environment where people at all levels can experience both success and significance, look for an organization led by servant leaders.

Many people, as they go through life, focus mainly on success. To them, success is represented by wealth, recognition, and power and status. Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting those things, as long as you don’t think that’s who you are. But I’d like you to focus on the opposite of each of those things as you strive to move from success to significance.

What’s the opposite of accumulating wealth? It’s generosity—of your time, talent, treasure, and touch (reaching out to support others). What’s the opposite of recognition? It’s service. And what’s the opposite of power and status? It’s loving relationships.

If you focus only on success—wealth, recognition, and power and status—you will never reach significance. That’s the problem with self-serving leaders; they have a hard time getting out of their own way. But if you focus on significance—generosity, service, and loving relationships—you’ll be amazed at how much success will come your way. Take Mother Teresa, for example. She couldn’t care less about wealth, recognition, or status. Her whole life was focused on significance. And what happened? Success came her way. Her ministry received tremendous financial backing, she was recognized all over the world, and she was given the highest status wherever she went. Mother Teresa was the ultimate servant leader. If you focus on significance first, your emphasis will be on serving others—and success and results will follow.

Life is all about the choices we make as we interact with others. We can choose to be serving or self-serving. Life constantly presents us with opportunities to choose to love and serve one another.

Someone once said to my wife, Margie, “You’ve lived with Ken for more than 50 years. What do you think leadership is all about?”

Margie said, “Leadership isn’t about love—it is love. It’s loving your mission, loving your customers, loving your people, and loving yourself enough to get out of the way so that other people can be magnificent.”

That’s what servant leadership is all about.

 

To learn more about servant leadership, read Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Resultsa collection of 44 essays from today’s top servant leadership experts and practitioners, coedited by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell. Available March 6. Preorder now from your favorite bookseller.

Keep Your Praise-to-Criticism Ratio at 4:1 for a Healthy Workplace

I was once talking to a young woman and asked her if she liked her boss.

“She’s okay,” she said. “She seems to think I’m doing a good job.”

“How can you tell?” I asked her.

“Well, she hasn’t yelled at me lately,” she said.

Unfortunately, too many people have bosses like this—they never hear from them unless they do something wrong. That’s too bad. I am a firm believer in not only catching people doing things right, but praising them when they do.

I was involved in a corporate study where criticisms and praisings from managers to direct reports were tabulated and the reactions measured. The study concluded that in a healthy workplace environment there need to be at least four times as many positive interactions as negative ones between manager and direct report—a 4:1 ratio.

When there was one praising for each criticism (1:1), people perceived their relationship with their boss to be negative. When the ratio was changed and there were two praisings to one criticism (2:1), people still saw their manager as being all over them. It wasn’t until there were four praisings to one criticism (4:1) that people responded that they had a good relationship with their boss.

You know that people’s perception of criticism is powerful when it takes four positive comments to balance one negative comment. It’s pretty clear that when a leader doesn’t give a lot of praise, the people who work with them will think of them as negative and unfair. So how can you cultivate that much praise? It’s simple: catch people doing something right and give them a One Minute Praising.

In The New One Minute Manager®, my late friend Spencer Johnson and I wrote about One Minute Praisings. They work best when you follow these steps:

  1. Praise someone as soon as possible after you see praiseworthy behavior or work. Don’t save up compliments—unspoken praise is worthless!
  2. In very specific terms, tell the person what they did right—and be specific.
  3. Tell them how good you feel about what they did right and how it helps others or the organization. In other words, relate their good behavior to the broader picture.
  4. Once you’ve given a praising, pause to let the message sink in and give the person a chance to feel good about what they did.
  5. After a brief pause, let the person know you would like to see more of the same behavior.
  6. Make it clear that you have confidence in them and that you support their success in the organization.

These steps can easily and sincerely be accomplished in a minute. One Minute Praisings have a powerful impact on morale and productivity—and they are a great way to create a consistent 4:1 ratio in your organization!

The Leadership Compass

A few years ago, my good friend Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, came up with an interesting concept about how leadership is like the face of a compass, with four points—south, north, east, and west.

When people talk about leadership, they are usually talking about the compass pointing south. When you lead south, you are the leader and your job is to help your people win. Spencer Johnson and I wrote about this in The One Minute Manager. You work with your people on goal setting, praise them when they do well, and redirect them when they get off track.

When you manage north, it’s about influencing up—which is the subject of my book with Susan Fowler and Lawrence Hawkins, Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager. How do you get what you need to succeed? You must develop the right mindset and skillset to ask your boss for exactly what you need.

Then there’s leading east and west, which is all about supporting your colleagues and others in your peer group. When you know how to lead laterally and create win-win situations with your peers, it can have a very positive effect on the culture. Leading east and west is also about the mentoring that can happen among people of any rank or age as long as one person has something they can learn from another.

What’s really key to the compass analogy is what is at the center of the compass: you. The most difficult leadership challenge we all have is ourselves. Meeting that challenge begins by being self-aware. It doesn’t matter how many points we hit around the compass if we’re not strong in the middle. Take a hard look at yourself. Figure out what you need to do to be the kind of leader you want to be.

If you want to be a 360-degree leader, you need to learn how to lead in all four directions—south, where  you serve the people who report to you; north, where relationship and influence help you manage those with authority over you; and east and west where you guide and encourage your peers. And don’t forget to keep the compass point centered by knowing you are the best leader you can be so that you can maximize your influence on others.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Mentoring

Last time, I introduced you to a few of the concepts covered in One Minute Mentoring, my new book coauthored by Claire Diaz-Ortiz. The reason we call our book One Minute Mentoring is simple: sometimes the best advice you’ll ever give or receive can be communicated in less than a minute. Here’s a little story about one minute mentoring that happened to me by accident.

A few days ago, I was chatting with a young woman named Rachel who works at our company when she mentioned she is preparing to go back to college this fall. I asked her how she felt about going back to school.

“I guess I’m excited,” she said.

“You’re excited! That’s good. Any other feelings going on?” I asked.

“Well,” she continued, “to be honest, I’m also a little scared.”

“You know, those two emotions—excitement and fear—are triggered in the same place in your brain,” I said. “So if you feel fear, try to think of how you can take that emotion and reframe it in a more positive direction. For example, instead of thinking of college coursework as something to dread, I think it’s possible that you’ll find it a lot more interesting now that you’re a little older. Think of all the things you’ll learn that you don’t know yet.”

“That’s really true,” Rachel said with a smile. “So if I reframe my own thoughts I can actually turn that fear into excitement. I like that idea,” Rachel said.

“Your brain will believe anything you tell it,” I continued. “So if you keep thinking about how daunting it is to go back to school, fear will continue to be your main focus.”

“But if I keep thinking about it in a positive way, I’ll start feeling the excitement more than the fear.”

“You’ve got it,” I said.

Rachel told me later that conversation was like a light bulb turning on in her mind. In one simple conversation that took less than a minute, her perspective on going back to college changed. Rachel and I don’t have any kind of a formal mentoring relationship, but in that minute I was her mentor and she was my mentee. I didn’t even think about what I did as mentoring until a few days later.

The best part about this story is what happened afterward. Rachel said the concept of reframing a negative emotion into a positive one was so important to her that she told several people at work about our conversation—and most of them were as intrigued with the idea as Rachel was. She took that small bit of information and shared it with others. Now who is the mentor? Rachel. And the mentees are all the people she talked to about reframing negative thinking.

See how mentoring can happen in just a minute? And you might not even be aware you’re doing it. Never underestimate the power of mentoring!

Learn more about One Minute Mentoring or order your copy at Amazon.com.