You Don’t Need a Fancy Title To Be a Servant Leader

One of my favorite stories in our recent book, Servant Leadership in Action, comes from James Ferrell of the Arbinger Institute. The leader James writes about doesn’t have a fancy title, but he’s a living example of Robert Greenleaf’s definition of a servant leader as someone who “focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.”

Who is this servant leader? It’s the man who collects the trash in James’s neighborhood each week.

“Our trash is collected on Friday mornings,” James writes. “One Friday morning, as I heard the garbage truck pull into our cul-de-sac, I realized that I had forgotten to take the bins out.”

Perhaps you can relate to the panic James felt as he threw on some clothes and hustled down the stairs—not to mention the sinking feeling he had when he heard the truck pull away. “A week with no room in our garbage bins!” James thought with a grimace.

But when James looked out the front window, he saw his two bins—and they were empty! He was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for his amazing neighbors.

A few weeks later James bumped into two of those very neighbors: David, who lived across the street, and Randy, who lived around the corner. David was telling a story about how he’d seen the garbage truck driver walking around and picking up trash strewn all over the street. David said he felt badly, because he’d overpacked his bin and it was likely the spilled trash was his.

“So,” David said, “I decided that the next week I’d go out and thank that driver and give him a gift.”

But the next week the truck was early. By the time David rushed out the door, it had already rounded the corner. “The truck was parked in front of Randy’s house,” David continued. “Then I saw the driver wheeling Randy’s two garbage bins down from the side of his house!”

“Wait!” Randy interjected. “The garbage man did that? I thought the neighbors had helped us out.”

As he listened to this story, James had the same reaction. He realized that the driver must have helped with his bins, as well.

“Now,” James writes, “you might think that David, Randy, and I had it made at this point. After all, we wouldn’t even have to take our trash out to the street anymore; the garbage man would do it for us!”

But that’s not how they responded. Instead, the garbage truck driver’s selfless actions motivated James and his neighbors to remember to take out their bins, because they didn’t want to make things harder for the driver. Plus, they took care to leave ample room between the bins, something they’d heard they were supposed to do, but hadn’t bothered with before.

“In a way,” James continues, “our garbage man trained the entire neighborhood to make his life easier. How did he do this? By making our lives easier, which is the essence of what servant leaders do.”

In Leading at a Higher Level, my Blanchard colleagues and I define leadership as the capacity to influence others by unleashing their power and potential to impact the greater good. James Ferrell’s story underscores the point that you don’t need a fancy title to be an effective servant leader.

Greetings from a Servant Leader

“Good morning everyone, this is Ken. It’s a little bit after eight o’clock in San Diego, California….”

That’s an example of the way I begin my morning message that goes out to most of the people in our company every weekday morning. I’ve been doing it for the better part of twenty years now!

When folks outside of the company hear that I send a daily morning message to our people, they usually ask, “How can you think of something new to say every single day?” They think it sounds like a lot of trouble. But I enjoy doing it. Why? Because knowing that people are expecting my daily message compels me every day to think of things I feel lucky about. What did I do yesterday that was interesting? What did I learn? I’ll ask for prayers and love to be sent out when I hear someone is ill or when they lose a loved one. And sometimes it’s about celebration—I’ll congratulate a person or a whole department on something specific they did right, like giving great service to a client or making a big sale.

Sending out a daily message helps me stay in touch with almost everyone in our company at once. I’ve been told it keeps our company culture top of mind for people I don’t get to see very often—those who work in the field or in other parts of the world.

Sending a morning message does as much for me as it does for the people who receive it. I highly recommend it as a great communication tool for any servant leader!

You Will Become Who You Walk With

One of my favorite quotes is “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Two of our company’s cofounders, Don Carew and Eunice Parisi Carew, came up with that simple truth when they coauthored our team leadership program. It’s one of the basic tenets for building and maintaining high performing teams.

In a similar vein, my pastor friend Erwin McManus states in his book The Last Arrow that we are meant in life to live in community. “Whatever you do, you need to find your tribe. . . . When you surround yourself with great people, it elevates who you are. If you want to have great character, surround yourself with people of great character. . . . You will become who you walk with.”

When Renee Broadwell and I edited Servant Leadership in Action, we surrounded ourselves with great people—our book’s contributors. Now, as Martha Lawrence and I edit the third edition of Leading at a Higher Level, we also are surrounded with great people—our company associates.

So think—who do you surround yourself with? Who do you walk with?

Servant Leadership in Action

We’re going to do something a little different this week. Here is a guest blog from my friend and colleague David Witt, marketing program director at The Ken Blanchard Companies. David was the catalyst behind our Servant Leadership in Action Livecast that was broadcast online last week to more than 3,200 viewers. Read on for more information about the livecast as well as our new book, Servant Leadership in Action (which launched this week), including a link so that you can view the livecast for free at your convenience if you missed seeing it.

Servant Leadership: 20 Top Thought Leaders

In a recent Servant Leadership in Action Livecast, over 3,200 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals had an opportunity to hear from 20 of the contributing authors in a new book co-edited by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell.

The book, Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results, features 44 short articles that take a fresh look at servant leadership principles and how they can be applied in today’s organizations.

The recent Livecast explored five of the six main sections of the book. In section one, Fundamentals of Servant Leadership, viewers heard from Mark Sanborn, Jon Gordon, Jim Kouzes, and Holly Culhane on the origins of servant leadership, how to apply it at work and home, and what the role of a leader is in today’s work environment.

In section two, Elements of Servant Leadership, viewers watched short videos from Jim Dittmar, Stephen M. R. Covey, Neal Nybo, and Mark Miller on the key behavior traits of servant leaders, the role of trust, personality challenges, and how to get started.

In section three, Lessons in Servant Leadership, viewers saw Tom Mullins, Shirley Bullard, Art Barter, and Margie Blanchard describe how servant leadership principles have played a role in their work lives and what they took away from the experience.

In section four, Putting Servant Leadership to Work, viewers watched videos from current and former CEOs Garry Ridge of WD-40, James Blanchard of Synovus Financial, and Cheryl Bachelder of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen as they explain how they used servant leadership principles in their organizations. Viewers also heard retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Jeff Foley describe how servant leadership principles guide mission and values in the military.

In section five, Exemplars of Servant Leadership, viewers watched four contributing authors sing the praises of others who have impacted their lives through examples of servant leadership in action. Rico Moranto, Guardian of the Culture at Waste Connections, shares an example about a colleague at work who modeled a serving heart focused on others. Richard Blackaby, President of Blackaby Ministries International talks about his father, Henry Blackaby, and the work he did turning around troubled churches. John Hope Bryant, founder & CEO of Operation HOPE, shares a story about his hero and mentor, Ambassador Andrew Young, and his relationship as a friend and colleague to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And Marshall Goldsmith, best-selling author and the world’s leading executive coach, finishes with a wonderful story about former Girl Scout CEO Frances Hesselbein.

Throughout the broadcast, Ken Blanchard shares personal stories about the people described in the videos along with takeaways and action steps. It’s a wonderful, encouraging two-hour event that will help you explore servant leadership principles and how they can be applied to create an organization focused on both results and people.

The best news is that the two-hour event was recorded and is available to view for free, courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers and The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Use this Servant Leadership in Action Livecast link to access the recording.

Interested in attending an upcoming free live event on the topic of servant leadership? Join Ken Blanchard on April 3 for a one-hour webinar on Creating a Culture of Service. Blanchard will be sharing how to take a servant leadership mindset and turn it into a servant leadership skill set throughout your organization. You can register using this link.

 

PS: To learn more about the new book Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results, visit Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite online or local bookseller. The book features chapters from all the thought leaders mentioned in this article as well as more than twenty others including Brené Brown, Dave Ramsey, Henry Cloud, Patrick Lencioni, and Simon Sinek.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast CompanyHuman Resource Development ReviewChief Learning Officer, and US Business Review.

MORE CONTENT BY DAVID WITT

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.