The Visionary Role of the Servant Leader

I love the saying “A river without banks is a large puddle.” The banks permit the river to flow and give it direction. In my last post I explained that the visionary part of servant leadership is about providing clear direction. If people don’t have a compelling vision to serve, they can’t work toward a common goal. They can’t keep organizational energy flowing in a consistent direction.

Walt Disney provided a great example of this when he started his theme parks with a significant purpose. He said “We’re in the happiness business.” That is very different from being in the theme park business. Being in the happiness business helps cast members (employees) understand their primary role in the company.

Walt Disney’s picture of the future was expressed in the charge he gave every cast member: “Keep the same smile on people’s faces when they leave the park as when they entered.” Disney didn’t care whether a guest was in the park two hours or ten hours. He just wanted to keep them smiling. After all, they were in the happiness business. A picture of the future should focus on the end result, not the process of getting there.

The Disney theme parks have four clear, rank ordered values: safety, courtesy, the show, and efficiency. Why is safety the highest ranked value? Walt Disney knew that if a guest was carried out of one of his parks on a stretcher, they would not have the same smile on their face leaving the park as they had when they entered.

The second ranked value, courtesy, is all about the friendly attitude you expect at a Disney park. Why is it important to know that it’s the number two value? Suppose one of the Disney cast members is answering a guest question in a friendly, courteous manner, and he hears a scream that’s not coming from a roller coaster. If that cast member wants to act according to the park’s rank ordered values, he will excuse himself as quickly and politely as possible and race toward the scream. Why? Because the number one value just called. If the values were not rank ordered and the cast member was enjoying his interaction with the guest, he might say, “They’re always yelling at the park,” and not move in the direction of the scream. Later, somebody could come to that cast member and say, “You were the closest to the scream. Why didn’t you move?” The response could be, “I was dealing with our courtesy value.” Life is a series of value conflicts. There will be times when you can’t act on two values at the same time.

Every organization should have a compelling vision that includes a significant purpose, a picture of the future, and clear values. These three elements will provide the strategic direction people need on a daily basis to perform at the highest level and secure organizational success.

The Collaborative Way to Create a Clear Purpose, Values, and Goals

I’ve always said that leadership is about going somewhere—and a big part of that is working with your people to create a clear purpose, values, and goals. This is a key element in the collaborative process we describe, using the acronym UNITE, in my latest book with my coauthors Jane Ripley and Eunice Parisi-Carew, Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster.

As a reminder, UNITE represents the five elements every person must adopt if they want to create a culture of collaboration in their workplace: Utilize differences; Nurture safety and trust; Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values, and goals; Talk openly; and Empower yourself and others. Today we will take a closer look at the importance of Involving others in the process of creating a clear purpose, values and goals. To clarify, a clear shared purpose galvanizes action, values guide behaviors, and goals focus energy.

It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that the vision and direction are clear, but it is essential to get feedback from everyone when writing the purpose statement, operating values, and strategic goals. If these decisions are made by executives and imposed on the group in a top-down implementation, people won’t be wholly supportive. When everyone has input there is greater support and buy-in because each person has a stake in the outcome. Involving people in these decisions builds their commitment to the cause—whether it is at the corporate, department, or team level.

Once the purpose statement is created, team members need to agree on values and rank them in order of importance. This is a critical step because sometimes values can be in conflict with each other. For example, let’s say your values are integrity, relationships, success, and creativity, ranked in that order. Your team has come up with a very creative idea, but implementing it would be cost prohibitive and could put the company at financial risk. Since success is ranked before creativity, the project would be a no-go—that is, unless the team can be creative enough to develop a way to make the project a less expensive undertaking.

The last task is to agree upon three or four key goals that clearly state what is expected of the team. Some leaders make the mistake of thinking that when the purpose and values are clear, people will understand what they need to do. But that is a dangerous assumption to make. Don’t leave anything to chance. Clear goals are necessary to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction for the same reasons.

As a leader, how well do you think you involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values and goals? Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Is my team committed to a shared purpose?
  2. Do I know the purpose of our project and why it is important?
  3. Do I hold myself and others accountable for adhering to our values?
  4. Do I check decisions against our stated values?
  5. Do I hold myself and others accountable for project outcomes?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you are probably a very collaborative leader. Use this checklist as a guide to make sure you are focused on continual improvement and keeping your team involved.

Collaboration Begins with You Book coverTo learn more about Collaboration Begins With You: Be a Silo Buster, visit the book homepage where you can download the first chapter.

The Reality of Work-Life Balance

Much has been written about work-life balance. Some say it is impossible to find in our fast-paced world. Others say it is achievable—but you have to work at it.

Summertime is usually the time of year when people try to concentrate a little more on work-life balance. However, I don’t see balance as just a summer project. In fact, for some people, summers can be more hectic than the rest of the year with children out of school, extended visits from family and friends, and pressure to take vacation—even as project deadlines pile up at work. This kind of schedule can turn a balanced summer into a stressful summer. But there is a way to manage all the day-to-day demands of a busy life, no matter what time of year.

Reaching balance in life is all about decreasing stress by focusing on things that create a sense of contentment. Several years ago my lovely wife, Margie, came up with PACT—an easy to remember model whose elements can help people relieve stress in their lives by achieving Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, and Tone.

  • Perspective is about seeing the big picture of life. If we know our purpose and direction in life, chances are we have a good perspective and daily stressors don’t get blown out of proportion. To illustrate the concept of perspective, I think about when our kids were young and we would take them to the zoo. Most parents get a little crazy chasing their kids around the zoo, but we loved it because our top priority was to have fun with the kids. We were able to overlook certain things and just enjoy the day—it was all part of our perspective. I called it zoo mentality. Honestly, it still seems strange to me that parents take their kids to the zoo then spend the whole time yelling at them. Everyone would have more fun if they embraced the perspective of zoo mentality.
  • Autonomy relates to our ability to make choices that allow us to be in control of our lives. If you have a high sense of autonomy, you are not totally controlled by your job, your spouse, your children, or anyone or anything. Of course no one can always be in complete control of every aspect of their life, but as long as your daily activities support your personal and professional goals you will have a greater sense of balance.
  • Connectedness is all about having strong positive relationships at home, at work, and in the community. Mutually supportive relationships can enhance a feeling of overall well-being and balance. Creating trusted connections at work helps improve morale and performance, while spending quality time with family and friends leads to a feeling of satisfaction of belonging to a community or being part of something bigger than yourself.
  • Tone covers how you feel about yourself physically. It includes the way you look, your health and energy level, and your level of fitness.  People with high tone generally have a high energy level, maintain a proper weight, have sound nutrition, and feel good about their physical appearance.

Margie and I have taught the PACT model for many years, and I still use it to monitor the balance in my own life. It’s a great tool that will help you not only pinpoint what’s wrong when life gets stressful, but also check off what you’re doing right when you are feeling great.

When your life is in balance, stress naturally loses its grip. Start using the PACT model this summer and keep it up all year long. You’ll live life at a higher level.