Servant Leadership: Serve to Be Great

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This blog is about leadership as it applies to projects and project management, but also as it applies to society in general. The bloggers here manage projects and lead teams in both business and volunteer environments, and are all graduates of PMI's Leadership Institute Master Class. We hope to bring insight into the challenges we all experience in our projects and in our day-to-day work, providing helpful tidbits to inspire you to take action to improve—whether in your personal life, your business/work life or on your projects. Read, comment and share your experiences as we share ours. Let’s make the pie bigger! Grab a slice!

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Cameron McGaughy
Catalin Dogaru
Mike Frenette
Suzan Cho
Jonathan Lee
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Graham Briggs
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Fear or Love?  / ¿Miedo o Amor?

What does Servant Leadership mean to you?

Now, we are free

Where There's Smoke, Is There Fire?

Teach me to dance, will you?

Fear or Love?  / ¿Miedo o Amor?

Fear or Love?

Organizational Culture and Servant Leadership

While reading Catalin Teodor’s post “Now, we are free”, I asked myself how many organizations promote a servant culture within the ranks of their leaders.

I believe, as Catalin mentioned, that most leaders feel they lose their power being servant leaders, taking care and being worried about the welfare of their collaborators.

As an example, I recall the CEO of Enel Italian Group, Francesco Starace's response to a student at the Luiss Business School who asked him how to encourage people to adopt changes made in his organization. I understand there is not a servant leadership culture in Enel; on the contrary, their organizational culture is based on fear. Starace's answer to the student was "To achieve change you must inspire fear." He added: "First, you have to locate the ganglia - centers of power – that are contrary to the change, and hit on them to create fear and discomfort." While these comments were repudiated by the international press, there are many organizations that work that way.

On the other hand, and fortunately, there are also stories of great leaders, who have generated extraordinary results in their organizations through leadership centered on the well-being of the people, using a style that has much in common with servant leadership: humility, care and concern for the well-being of others.

Examples of these leaders are Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett, who have created low-cost Southwest Airlines in Texas, having had to overcome the attacks of the big airlines who were threatened by them, and that today has more passengers being carried on domestic flights in the United States than any other.

Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett's leadership approach is "Employees come first," where leaders take care of employees, make sure they feel good, have what they need to do their jobs, and are supportive of their personal lives.

Just to imagine how strong the organizational culture of Southwest Airlines is, consider that the company's stock is called "LUV".

In addition, we can cite the case of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, with more than 360 companies, who also imposes a culture in its companies that focus on employees.  In an interview, Branson stated, "If the person who works in your company is 100% proud of the brand, and you give them the tools to do a good job and treat them well, they will be happy."

Branson says that to make sure his employees are treated well, he collects feedback by walking through the cabin and talking directly to staff during Virgin flights.

Another similar and very interesting example is Vineet Nayar, an Indian executive, former CEO of HCL Technologies and author of the best-selling book "Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down", who managed to converse every year with each one of the 89,000 employees, asking them about their problems and giving them answers.

And it is not uncommon for these people-centered companies to have such good results, as studies show that the culture of the organization, and especially how people feel caring the climate of the company, can improve business performance by up to 30%.

Renowned leadership expert and famous TEDx's speaker, Simon Sinek, whom we were lucky enough to hear as a keynote speaker at the PMI North America Leadership Institute Meeting in San Diego in September 2016, expressed that leaders must create an environment of care, protection, and trust so that the employees feel safe. Otherwise, people spend their energy on covering their backs, rather than investing in teamwork and production.

I believe that, if organizations had this in mind, we would have more servant leaders and few"based on fear" leaders.

Who would you rather work for? Caring leaders who increase company profits by keeping their workforce content, happily focusing on customer satisfaction? Or leaders who feel a need to instill fear and crush opposition to their views?

En Español:

¿Miedo o Amor?

La Cultura Organizacional y el Liderazgo Servicial

Mientras leía el post “Now –we are free” de Catalin Teodor, me preguntaba cuántas organizaciones promueven la cultura de servicio en sus líderes.

Creo, tal como menciona Catalin, que la mayoría de los líderes siente que pierde poder siendo el servidor, sirviendo y cuidando a sus colaboradores.

Por ejemplo, recuerdo la respuesta del CEO del Grupo Italiano Enel, Francesco Starace, a un estudiante de la Luiss Business School, que le preguntó cómo lograr que las personas de su organización adopten los cambios. Entiendo que en Enel no hay una cultura de liderazgo servicial, por el contrario, la cultura organizacional está basada en el miedo. La respuesta de Starace al estudiante fue “Para lograr el cambio tienes que inspirar miedo”.  Y agregó el directivo que “Primero hay que localizar los ganglios –centros de poder- que se opongan al cambio y pegarles para crear miedo y disconfort”. Si bien estos comentarios tuvieron repudio por parte de la prensa internacional, hay muchas organizaciones que funcionan de esa forma.

Por otro lado, y por fortuna, también hay historias de grandes líderes, que han generado resultados extraordinarios en sus organizaciones a través un liderazgo centrado en el bienestar de las personas, donde se aprecia un estilo que tiene mucho en común con el liderazgo servicial: humildad, cuidado y preocupación por el bienestar de los demás.

Ejemplos de estos líderes son Herb Kelleger y Colleen Barrett, quienes han creado la compañía aérea low cost de Texas, Southwest Airlines, la cual tuvo que vencer los ataques de las grandes líneas aéreas que veían una competencia amenazante en ellos, y que hoy en día es la compañía aérea que más cantidad de pasajeros transporta en vuelos domésticos en los Estados Unidos.

El enfoque de liderazgo de Herb Kelleger y Colleen Barrett es el de “Los empleados son lo primero”, donde los líderes cuidan a los empleados y se aseguran que se sientan bien y tengan lo que necesitan para poder desarrollar sus trabajos, y también se preocupan de sus vidas personales. 

Cómo será de fuerte la cultura organizacional de Southest Airlines, que la acción de la compañía se llama “LUV”, (cuya pronunciación en inglés es similar a la palabra “love”, que significa “amor”).

Adicionalmente, podemos citar el caso de Richard Branson, fundador del Virgin Group que posee más de 360 compañías, quién también impone una cultura en sus empresas que se centran en los empleados.

En una entrevista, Branson dice que “Si la persona que trabaja en tu compañía está 100% orgullosa de la marca, y tú le brindas las herramientas para hacer un buen trabajo y los tratas bien, ellos serán felices”.

Branson dice que para asegurarse que sus empleados son tratados bien, él mismo va a recoger feedback caminando por la cabina y conversando directamente con el staff durante los vuelos de Virgin.

Otro ejemplo similar y muy interesante es el Vineet Nayar, ejecutivo indio, ex CEO de HCL Technologies, autor del libro best-seller “Empleados Primero, Clientes Segundo: Dando vuelta la Gestión convencional”, quién se las ingeniaba para conversar todos los años con sus 89.000 empleados, preguntándoles sobre sus problemas y dándoles respuestas.

Y no es raro que estas compañías que se centran en las personas tengan tan buenos resultados, ya que los estudios muestran que la cultura de la organización, y en especial como la gente siente el clima, puede afectar hasta el 30% el desempeño del negocio.

El experto en Liderazgo y reconocido orador de TEDx, Simon Sinek, al que tuvimos la suerte de escuchar en la Leadership Institute Meeting de PMI de Norteamérica que se desarrolló en San Diego en Setiembre de 2016, expresó, en aquella ocasión, que los líderes deben generar un ambiente de cuidado, protección y confianza para que sus colaboradores se sientan seguros. De lo contrario, las personas gastan su energía en cubrirse las espaldas, en vez de invertirla en trabajar en equipo y producir.

Creo que, si las organizaciones tuvieran esto en cuenta, tendríamos más líderes serviciales y menos líderes que inspiren miedo.

¿Para quién preferirías trabajar? ¿Para líderes protectores, que aumentan los beneficios de la empresa manteniendo a los empleados contentos, felices, centrándose en la satisfacción del cliente? ¿O para líderes que sienten la necesidad de inculcar miedo y aplastar la oposición a sus puntos de vista?

 

Posted by Cecilia Boggi on: April 14, 2017 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

What does Servant Leadership mean to you?

What does Servant Leadership mean to you?

Today, I am very thankful to Jon R Wallace in my leadership journey. I would like to share with you his Transformational Servant Leadership Innovation (TSI) model and hope you find it as helpful as I do!


Transformational Servant Leadership Innovation Cycle (Wallace)

Jon pointed out that “Transformational Leadership and Servant Leadership are closely intertwined with similar meanings. I agree with him that Servant Leadership is “transformational in scope and outcomes”. It is principle-based and it all started from the heart with the Trust that came from Altruistic Integrity which, when nurtured, will lead to Ingenuity that connects with the purpose. Servant Leadership has the potential to improve the organizational outcome and transform lives.

Transformational Servant Leadership Innovation Cycle (Wallace)

On a micro scale, we can say that trust relationships with people are the foundation of leadership. When thinking of servant leadership, think stewardship and commitment to help others succeed. Experience is our best teacher and so is the love of learning. Applying what we learn will prepare us for success.

I picture servant leaders to be quiet leaders because they are thinkers (have vision) and they are also doers. Servant Leaders focus on providing the service, with others in mind (selflessness) and listen well. The intent itself demonstrates respect, awareness, and empathy to achieve a greater good. They plan ahead and anticipate change (have foresight); therefore, they are quick to respond to the unexpected.

As Jon said, “At the end of the day it becomes a matter of what we choose to do to improve ourselves and then how we transfer that knowledge to encourage others to do the same.” It is the choice we make to achieve sustainable impact. I believe that is quite powerful. Do you?

Posted by Suzan Cho on: April 04, 2017 08:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Now, we are free

The word “servant” triggers (in many situations) goose-bumps on individuals aspiring to be leaders. We are wired to perceive it as a “status-reducing” label, as a way to mark the limits for a second-class role (or, even worse, an individual). Associating it with strong, powerful noun - like leadership or leader - doesn’t make it better.

In fact, in this case - servant leadership or servant leader - the term “servant” (officially, a noun) is perceived more like an adjective, diminishing the force of its more famous associate. I always look at people’s faces when this topic is brought to the table. I actually started a little experiment.  When asked about what I am most passionate about and what my favourite speaking topic is, I answer first with “I am really into [or] I really like to speak about leadership…”. My conversational partner’s face lights up (“Oh, another one…” - he might be thinking) and he asks - ready to share and engage in a small debate - “What kind of leadership?”.

As soon as the “infamous” association - servant leadership - leaves my mouth, the just-created magic disappears. I can see disorientation and confusion in my interlocutor’s eyes. The comfortable smile is replaced by a suspicious scowl and, most probably, questions start popping into his or her mind - “What the hell is this? You are either a servant, or a leader. Are you mocking me?”

The reduction-effect of “servant” upon “leadership” - which I described earlier - is almost instantaneously present. Everybody loves Leadership and are willing to talk about this “amazing, sensible and always up-to date” topic. We need leaders and leadership. They are vital for our success, for our well-being, for our society. But...Servant Leadership? Servant Leaders? It seems to degrade the powerful noun.... leadership - as we were wired to perceive it.

We put our leaders on a really high pedestal. Even if they don’t want to be there, we elevate them. In many situations, this is the only way we can see (as in “perceive”) them as leaders. We need to see them at any moment, to have them in front, (literally) leading the way. Our leaders have to pull us and help us achieve a strong pace to the target. Otherwise, they are not the leaders we expected, the leaders who can take us there no matter what. How can we trust a leader who is actually behind us, gently pushing, not pulling and, most of all, serving us?

The way I see it, this sorry situation is triggered by two main factors:

  1. Our human wiring triggers our constant need to win. We have to prove that we are better than the other person, we have to be the alpha dog (as individuals, as teams, as countries etc.). And this can be proven easily just by taking a quick look around us - in our history, in our schools, in our companies. But, in order to win, we need...a strong leader. Actually, we need her or him to be stronger (more powerful) than the other leaders. And this seems impossible when she or he exhibits servant characteristics like humility, kindness, patience, forgiveness etc. Where is the power in these?

  2. We tend to trust our vision more than any other feeling.Therefore, it’s not enough to know that there is somebody there who has our back. We need to see him or her. That leader placed in front makes us feel protected. The group (by itself) might not be trustworthy. However, having the leader take control and direct/impose the way forward makes us feel safe (mainly, because we can see him or her there, in front, exuding power). How can we “feel safe” when we hear Servant Leadership principles like trusting the group, bearing others’ interests in mind, using the “force” of the group and making sure that we all reach our destination, while our understated leader exercises authority (not power) somewhere from behind the group and not in front?

        As I recall, coming back to my little experiment, no conversation about Servant Leadership ends up in a dull, boring way. The majority of my interlocutors smile politely and either change the subject or excuse themselves, leave or engage in another conversation. I get it - we might not be ready for this. Re-wiring our brains can be hard and takes a long time.

    However, I have seen individuals (it’s true, just a small percent) who were stirred and intrigued by the whole idea. Something sparked behind their eyes - maybe just enough to kick-off an internal revolution. This kind of “inception” is the one I am counting on. This is the one bringing more selflessness and less selfishness, more trust, more community and less individuality, more authority and so on and so forth.


We can be both “servants” and “leaders” - we need only to feel we have the freedom and encouragement to be a leader - a Servant Leader - to recognize that spark in ourselves.

Posted by Catalin Dogaru on: March 22, 2017 04:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Where There's Smoke, Is There Fire?

The other day I was staying at my townhouse in Minnesota and was looking for something to eat for dinner.  I searched the cabinets and refrigerator and settled on grilling a cheeseburger.  Then the realization came to me that the task would be slightly difficult.  Using a grill during the winter in the Midwest is possible when it is cold out, but this specific night it was -4F (with a “feels-like” temperature of -24F).  So, while possible it is not the most inviting thing to do.  So, I thought of my options and decided that I could make it inside on the stove.  I thought to myself how hard could it be?  When I was a kid, my mom always made cheeseburgers on the stove.  And, while my mom has many amazing qualities and talents, let’s just say cooking is not necessarily at the top of the list.

Cooking started out fine.  I cooked one side of the burger.  When I lifted the lid of the frying pan and flipped the patty over there was some smoke coming from the pan, but nothing out of the ordinary.  When I walked back to the stove to flip the burger back over, the “nothing out of the ordinary” smoke could only be described as being like a thick fog rolling in off of the ocean, or in this case billowing through the first floor of the townhouse.

I realized that the smoke detectors were going to go off if I didn’t act quickly.  I obviously didn’t act fast enough because they went off one by one… since they were all connected.  First floor, second floor, garage…  While I was dashing around trying to figure out how to fan out the first floor I got really nervous about all of the other consequences of this smoke and the smoke detectors.  For example, since the townhouse is in a community with other attached units and there are smoke detectors AND sprinklers in the ceiling, I wondered whether the sprinklers would go off and soak everything, not only in my townhouse but in the others around me?  I managed to let the fog roll out by opening the garage door and front door to get a good cross breeze and slowly but surely the smoke detectors stopped.  Besides it being a bit cold in the townhouse for a little while the crisis was diverted.

It got me thinking about the purpose of a smoke detector.  And, at this point you may be wondering, “Why is he  writing about this in a project management blog?”  While I was grabbing my jacket to stay warm while the smoke subsided I started to think about the purpose of a smoke detector.  It is to keep us safe and to alert us of potential fire.  It isn’t a fire yet, but it is a system that is meant  to tell us if we don’t act quickly we may have a fire.  There isn’t a guarantee that the smoke will ever lead to flame, but it is certainly possible.  And, because of technology, the connected systems give notice that something isn’t right and can alert the other systems around us.

In Project Management, we have a lot of different “smoke detectors” we employ purposefully or perhaps are there already even though we may not realize it.  For example, we have Total Float in a schedule.  This can alert us that activities on the Critical Path of a project could cause problems, but aren’t necessarily causing  issues yet.  Another example is Project Status Meetings.  These meetings aren’t scheduled so we can sit around and tell each other what we have accomplished and in some cases waste our time, but to give the Project Team the opportunity to all meet and discuss potential areas of concern.  In our personal and professional daily life, if you think about it, I believe there are a lot of areas where we can find our own “smoke detectors”.

So, tonight, when you are sitting around your house thinking, “I sure am glad I don’t have Graham here cooking dinner for me!”, also consider what types of detectors and alarms you may have on your projects and where you may want to add a few more.  Getting to the smoke before there is flame can be a tremendous sigh of relief in the end.


The old adage “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” may not always be true, but certainly where there’s smoke, there will likely be fire!  Watch for smoke, and keep your project safe!

Posted by Graham Briggs on: January 25, 2017 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Teach me to dance, will you?

Have you seen the last scene of “Zorba the Greek” movie?

If not, spoiler alert: two grown men, after witnessing the biggest failure of their only project, start to… dance.  Actually, to be more precise, the boss (who invested all his money in the project that failed) asks his one and only employee (who was more like a project manager) to teach him to dance. No reproaches, no arguments, no unnecessary discussions – they just start dancing, with the boss following the moves of the employee. The dance is their way to connect in order to be able to express their feelings and to discuss objectively and freely about what just happened.

Dancing has several characteristics that facilitate an invisible powerful bonding between people that makes for a beautiful performance. Two of these characteristics really amaze me:

  1. When two individuals are dancing, it is common practice for one to lead while the other one follows. However, the latter is actually willing to follow. Moreover, she/he expects to be lead from the moment she/he engaged in this “task” (dancing).

  2. We all know that non-verbal communication is the highest percentage in every interaction we have, transmitting more information than any other form of communication. In fact, dancing increases this percentage. When we dance, we speak less and we move more. We need, at the same time, to be careful of our moves and, most importantly, to be tuned in to our partner’s moves. In dancing, we “listen” more in order to be sure that our performance is the best sowe both succeed -  whether  we are the leader of the follower.

Of course, these are not the only bonding and performance characteristics of dancing. We need the right music, the right environment, the right partner and so on. However, as soon as we have the two mentioned above, more than 50% of the “job” is done. The dance becomes interesting, our performance is a good one and, most importantly, we enjoy it while connecting with our dance partner.

I think leadership should follow the same “recipe”. It should favour listening over speaking, willingness over forcing/pushing, authority over power. And, most importantly, it should create the right connection between the leader and the follower, a connection that allows both to express freely their feelings, concerns and ideas in order for both of them to grow and achieve success. Do you know of a leadership approach that can do all of this?

Spoiler alert (again): Servant Leadership is the “dance” we can perform every day, whether we are the leader or the follower.

OK - put on your ballroom best - ...1,2,3...Let’s dance!

Posted by Catalin Dogaru on: January 09, 2017 03:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)
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