Servant Leadership is not a leadership style; it is a way of life, with genuine and generous heart and strong commitment to the humility that puts the benefit of others before self.
Sharing with you Fortune’s The World’s most Admired Companies to start our conversation today. The oxymoron term of Servant Leadership has become better known because of the internationally recognized and respected success of the mega companies such as Starbucks (ranked 3rd in 2017, 5th in 2014) and Southwest Airlines (ranked #8 in 2017, #9 in 2014). Both deliver business excellence through the culture of trust and compassion.
Many people must think that Servant Leadership only works well in small teams or small organizations, such as the Scrum Master role in the software Agile development projects. However, size really doesn’t matter. Servant leadership is a way of creating human connections of virtuous cycles and building communities that outperform, as is the case with the examples above.
The path of finding or being a person with passion and passionately committed to a cause is not an easy one nor is it straightforward. For individuals, it is important to start from becoming self-aware, recognizing one’s strength or weakness and using that to benefit others without saying it (being humble). We are shaped by our experiences as a result of our actions. So, keep going!
Imagine if we continue to practice Servant Leadership from the heart with discipline, the virtues will expand and become a multiplier for the domino effect of the universe. Imagine the world operating in resonance with much success!
Everyone can be a leader with influence. A servant leader communicates well to inspire openness and trust. A servant leader cultivates a great emotional quotient to support others and help them thrive in doing and finding meaning and purpose in life while jointly advancing corporate goals. I think a good daily measure is to examine how much time you spend polishing and re-polishing to show your manager's position and control vs. working on improving the content to further develop ideas and execute to bring great results as a team.
Are you an entrepreneur who already embraced it and leading by example? If you have an opportunity to seek your company’s executive support for the servant leadership, what would be your "ask"? What will be an effective way to shift the corporate culture paradigm?
“Because I said so…”. This is a “powerful” sentence that (almost) every child has heard at least once. When they are criticized, misunderstood or just denied of what they want (with no explanation whatsoever), a child’s first impulse is either to dissolve into tears and/or to push back, puffing and woofing angrily towards the “repressor/enemy” (usually an adult). They want to show that they are in pain (psychologically) and frustrated.
But when you are 4 or 5 or 7 years old, it’s almost impossible to describe eloquently your state of mind, your emotions. It’s much easier to display them. This is why, in those particular moments, children begin to shout, whimper or scream. They actually begin to (what psychologist call) act-out (their feelings/emotions/ frustrations).
And guess what? In the adult world, it’s almost the same.
As adults, we learn to restrain (even repress) ourselves from physically exhibiting our (deep) emotions. We try to explain them, rationalise them as much as possible. However, as soon as somebody is “pushing” (harder) our buttons, we tend to return to our inner (indignant) child. We sulk, puff and woof, retreating from that conversation or, quite the opposite, retaliating in a strong, powerful manner. And, more often than we think, we want to protect ourselves by being more offensive. Instead of understanding our fears, insecurities and self-doubts, we block them and, most importantly, we turn them back on our opponent/”enemy”.
Didn’t you feel, after a dense, heated conversation and after you had time to cool off, that you might have just overreacted? That some of the actions you took and/or replies you uttered seemed (after you cooled off) exaggerated and inflamed considering the light weight of the topic itself?
That’s because you acted-out your state of mind. In that particular moment, the anger you experienced came from the fear that you will not get what you need/want, that you are not loved, not respected, not included/accepted by the group.
Isn’t that exactly how it was when we were kids, only with more psychological “baggage” accumulated over the years? We are adults now, we can be angry and fight back with more power and more means. We can win this one - not like when we were kids.
Oh, this is such an illusion…
Now, imagine all of these for an individual in a leadership position. The number of threats and (possible) conflicts rise exponentially. Higher expectations and greater ambition bring an increased level of stress and anxiety. All of the repressed fears, emotions find an easier way to surface and the individual (the leader?!?) is more prone to act-out in difficult times such as short deadlines, conflicting teams, disgruntled employees, stressful projects and more. Just like in childhood, acting-out brings (most of the time) many disadvantages and problems in any human relation.
Obviously, we wonder if we can avoid these situations as much as possible or, at least, reduce their probability. It’s hard to give a recipe for such a complex psychological matter.
However, I would venture a guess and offer three key elements that, in my opinion, any individual should focus on if she/he wants to be a better person (and, consequently, a better leader). As a side note - these are also core elements of servant leadership and promoted as such.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, I am sure. Emotions, sensations, feelings, fears: all of them are part of a “world” that constitutes the foundation of any relationship; being personal or professional. Therefore, we must not ignore them but try to understand and have them work for our benefit as individuals, especially, for the ones aspiring to lead.
To be the leader everyone expects today, we need to heal the “wounds” from yesterday or, at least, acknowledge and start working on them. And this is the toughest leadership decision that any of us wishing to lead has to make.
Are you up for it?
In our jobs as project managers, we often find ourselves thrust into situations requiring us to share our knowledge to help others be successful. But that is not a problem for us: it’s an opportunity to help others become leaders - a main tenet of servant leadership. And what stronger leadership is there than a PMO formed through a mix of best practices from credible sources, collaboration and consensus among the PMs in your organization?
So you are an excellent project manager and your skills have been recognized: a high success ratio in the projects you manage, high technical expertise, outstanding interpersonal skills and an ability to boil complex theory down into comprehensible, practical and applicable processes in your organization. You have been chosen. Now it is time to set up the PMO.
There have been been many books and articles written on how to set up a PMO and how to make it successful. There have also been many written on why PMOs fail, the types of PMOs and whether a PMO should be a provider of good practices or a provider of PM services. You must be well aware of success metrics for your PMO. You must learn lessons from those who have tried and succeeded or tried and failed, and you must know the type of PMO you have been mandated to create.
PMs are a strong-headed bunch. They are in control of their own project organizations, often have a lot of autonomy, and may (believe it not) actually be resistant to change, much like many people in a multitude of organizations. So, you will be challenged with inviting their input, collectively separating the wheat from the chaff, having them feel they have had input and have been part of gaining consensus on ways to change to improve project success rates without undue process and fanfare.
There are a few things I feel require particular focus:
These are just a few items to consider, of course. A final critically important note is to set up monitoring processes to ensure your PMO has high adoption rates and a robust sustainability plan. How will you monitor its use? If it is not used, how will you fix it so it is? How will you ensure it remains fresh with continuous updating? How will you ensure PMs stay engaged in the community you collectively created?There is more, of course, and I am sure some of you will share your experiences and lessons learned here.
Here’s to the establishment of your vibrant, well-adopted and fully sustainable Project Management Office!
Expert or Leader?
Those of us who graduate in technology careers, as in my case, tend to have a reputation for being independent and autonomous, and we are often e labeled as "NERDs".
Recall that the stereotype of "NERD" represents a very intelligent person, fascinated by knowledge, expert in technical issues and proud of it, but quite isolated from the environment that surrounds him or her, sometimes experiencing social disorders.
I have to admit that in the first years of my career in software development projects, I found many characters with the aforementioned characteristics: recognized experts highly valued for their knowledge, people who concentrated on their work, hoping that no one interrupts them, enjoying their interaction with computers more than with people.
And the more they specialized, it seemed that some traits of these experts were more accentuated, such as, for example:
Does this mean that experts cannot be leaders?
Are “being leader” and “being an expert” mutually exclusive?
Ginger Levin, in the Prologue of the book "IT Project Management - A Geek's Guide to Leadership", authored by Byron A. Love, expresses that successful Information Technology professionals pursue continuous technical training to keep up with technological changes. But the pace of technological change leaves them little time to develop their leadership skills.
As a result, many professionals are promoted to leadership roles based on their technical performance and not on their leadership skills - we call this the "Halo" effect. As a result, teams perform inefficiently.
Precisely, the study “State of the Global Workplace”, conducted by the consultancy Gallup, states that only 13% of employees worldwide are committed to what they do. It states: "Committed employees work with passion and feel a deep connection with their company, they drive innovation and make the organization move forward".
This means that just one in eight workers is "psychologically committed to their work and willing to make positive contributions to their organizations."
The rest of the employees are either "not committed" (63%) or "actively unengaged" (24%). The latter are unhappy, unproductive and prone to spread negativity to their colleagues.
Gerald M. Weinberg in his book “Becoming a Technical Leader” , says that since he was young, he made the decision to enter computer career because he did not want to deal with a leadership role.
However, then Weinberg says that his strategy did not give him the expected result: "As I stood out with my technical skills, my colleagues considered me an expert and respected me for it. Soon they began to consult me and ask for advice. They put me in charge of a team. They asked me to teach courses. The more I resisted becoming a leader, the more I became one. Finally, I had to face the question of leadership, despite my desire to avoid it. "
As described by Ginger Levin and Gerald Weinberg, developing leadership skills is necessary, even in professions related to information technology.
Estanislao Bachrach, Doctor in Biological Sciences and author of the Best Sellers “Agilmente” and “En Cambio”, comments in his lectures, which can be seen – in Spanish - on YouTube, that in current times “It does not make a difference being technically good. The real difference is made by being creative, empathetic”.
Based on the previous reflections, we can summarize that, as experts in technology we must become aware of the need to also develop our leadership skills and achieve the motivation and commitment of our colleagues, generating collaborative work teams to obtain the required performance in these times of high competition and change.
We must worry about listening and understanding the concerns of our colleagues, developing empathy towards them, focusing on their needs ahead of ours, helping them develop as professionals and as new leaders, that is, developing a servant leadership model.
This way, we will increase the confidence of our employees, while we increase their motivation and, therefore, the efficiency and effectiveness of our teams.
How to start?
First of all, let the fear of "not knowing everything" go, allowing our colleagues to be the experts while we promote a safe environment to allow them to develop with confidence.
Focus on the goals and objectives,not on the technical details, and delegate to them, trusting that they will do a good job.
Allow yourself and your colleagues to make mistakes and learn from them.
Understand that change requires time and discipline. We will not make it overnight. Start right now, and enjoy the process!
Are you ready to become a servant leader?
 Source: Love, Byron A., 2017, “IT Project Management - A Geek’s Guide to Leadership”, CRC Press.
 Source: Study “State of the Global Workplace”, done by Gallup Consulting among 180 million employees in 142 countries.
 Source: Weinberg, Gerald M., 2014, “Becoming a Technical Leader”, LeanPub.
 Source: Estanislao Bachrach - Creatividad y cambio. Congreso Nacional Argentina CREA 2013. YouTube Canal CREA (in Spanish) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGT4FX3YA9c&t=362s.
¿Experto o Líder?
Quienes nos graduamos en carreras de tecnología, como es mi caso, solemos tener fama de ser independientes y autónomos e, incluso, muchos somos catalogados de “NERDs”.
Recordemos que el estereotipo de “NERD” representa a una persona muy inteligente, fascinada por el conocimiento, experta en cuestiones técnicas y orgullosa por ello, pero bastante aislada del entorno que lo rodea, llegando a veces a experimentar trastornos sociales.
Tengo que reconocer que, en los primeros años de mi carrera, en proyectos de desarrollo de software, me encontré con muchos personajes con las características mencionadas: expertos reconocidos y muy valorados por sus conocimientos, personas que trabajaban muy concentradas en sus oficinas o puestos de trabajo, tratando que nadie los interrumpa, disfrutando más su interacción con las computadoras que con las personas.
Y cuanto más se especializaban, parecía que más se acentuaban algunas características de estos expertos, como, por ejemplo:
¿Significa esto que los expertos no pueden ser líderes?
Ginger Levin, en el Prólogo del libro “IT Project Management - A Geek’s Guide to Leadership”, de Byron A. Love, expresa que los profesionales exitosos de Tecnologías de la Información persiguen capacitación técnica continua para mantenerse actualizados con los cambios tecnológicos. Pero el ritmo de los cambios tecnológicos les deja poco tiempo para desarrollar el liderazgo.
Como resultado de esto, muchos profesionales son promovidos a roles de liderazgo basados en su desempeño técnico y no en sus habilidades de liderazgo. Lo que llamamos el efecto “Halo”. Y, en consecuencia, los equipos muestran un rendimiento ineficiente.
Justamente, de esto habla el estudio “State of the Global Workplace”, realizado por la consultora Gallup, donde establece que sólo 13% de los empleados, a escala mundial, está comprometido con lo que hace. Lo que quiere decir que apenas uno de cada ocho trabajadores —180 millones de empleados en 142 países en donde se realizó— está “psicológicamente comprometidos con su trabajo y dispuesto a dar contribuciones positivas a sus organizaciones”.
"Los empleados comprometidos trabajan con pasión y sienten una profunda conexión con su empresa. Impulsan la innovación y hacen avanzar la organización", establece el mencionado estudio.
El resto de los empleados, o bien “no está comprometido” (63%) o está “activamente desmotivado” (24%). Estos últimos son infelices, improductivos y propensos a propagar la negatividad a sus colaboradores.
Gerald M. Weinberg en su libro “Becoming a Technical Leader” , comenta que, desde joven, había tomado la decisión de estudiar una carrera de computación porque no quería lidiar con un rol de líder.
Sin embargo, cuenta luego Weinberg que su estrategia no le dio el resultado esperado: “Como me destacaba con los aspectos técnicos, mis colegas me consideraban un experto y me respetaban por ello. Pronto empezaban a consultarme y pedirme asesoramiento. Me pusieron a cargo de un equipo. Me pidieron que dictara cursos. Cuanto más me resistía a convertirme en líder, más me iba convirtiendo. Finalmente, tuve que enfrentar la cuestión del liderazgo, a pesar de lo que me molestaba.”
Tal como lo describen Ginger Levin y Gerald Weinberg, desarrollar el liderazgo es necesario, también en las profesiones relacionadas con la tecnología de la información.
Estanislao Bachrach, Doctor en Ciencias Biológicas y autor de los Best Sellers “Ágilmente” y “En Cambio”, comenta en sus conferencias, las que se pueden ver en Youtube, que en estos tiempos “No hace la diferencia ser bueno técnicamente. La diferencia la hace ser creativo, empático.”
En base a las reflexiones anteriores, podemos resumir que, como expertos en tecnología debemos tomar conciencia de la necesidad de desarrollar también nuestras habilidades de liderazgo y lograr la motivación y el compromiso de nuestros colaboradores, generando equipos de trabajo colaborativos para obtener el desempeño requerido en estos tiempos de alta competencia y cambio.
Debemos preocuparnos por escuchar y conocer las preocupaciones de nuestros colaboradores, desarrollar empatía hacia ellos poniendo foco en sus necesidades por delante de las nuestras, ayudando a que se desarrollen como profesionales y como nuevos líderes, es decir, desarrollar un modelo de liderazgo de servicio.
Con esto, aumentando la confianza en nuestros colaboradores, aumentaremos su motivación y, por lo tanto, la eficiencia y eficacia de nuestros equipos de trabajo.
En primer lugar, despojarnos del miedo de “no saber todo”, permitiendo que sean nuestros colaboradores los expertos y nosotros quienes les propiciamos el ámbito seguro para que se desenvuelvan con confianza.
Enfocarnos en las metas y los objetivos y no en los detalles técnicos, delegando esto último a nuestros colaboradores.
Permitirnos y permitir a nuestros colaboradores cometer errores, y aprender de ellos.
Entender que los cambios requieren tiempo y disciplina. No lo lograremos de la noche a la mañana. ¡Comenzar ya mismo y disfrutar del proceso!
¿Estás listo para convertirte en un líder servicial?
 Fuente: Love, Byron A., 2017, “IT Project Management - A Geek’s Guide to Leadership”, CRC Press.
 Fuente: Estudio “State of the Global Workplace”, realizado por la consultora Gallup entre 180 millones de empleados en 142 países.
 Fuente: Weinberg, Gerald M., 2014, “Becoming a Technical Leader”, LeanPub.
 Fuente: Estanislao Bachrach - Creatividad y cambio. Congreso Nacional Argentina CREA 2013. YouTube Canal CREA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGT4FX3YA9c&t=362s.
There I was, on the Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk just outside Privateers Warehouse, enjoying the beautiful, hot, sweltering day: the sort of day that made it difficult to lick all the drips of the Cows chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cone I had just salivatingly acquired as they began their rapid trek down the cone onto my hand, threatening to turn my arm into a sticky mess and prompting me to lament the fact that I had forgotten to ask for extra serviettes.
My colleague and I were out for a lunch time stroll, enjoying the cloudless indigo sky and the emerald water, passing Nova Scotia’s trademark Bluenose schooner at its usual dock and dodging tourists coming from the opposite direction, likely from one of the three gargantuan cruise ships that had docked farther down the harbour that morning at Pier 21. They were undoubtedly also on their way to purchase one of those delicious Cows delicacies, firm in their knowledge that the tourist brochure held rolled up in their sweaty fist was leading them to an unusual guilty Haligonian experience.
Since we both served on the same local volunteer board, we fell into a conversation about servant leadership and what it all meant. I expressed my belief that mentoring and coaching was a big part of being on any board, especially in volunteer organizations, due to the limited lifetime of a volunteer role. She conjectured that it didn’t really matter what happened after you left a volunteer organization, because you were no longer responsible, and it was up to those who stayed behind to do their part.
Well, that got me going. I posited that a volunteer board is exactly like an ice cream cone in the heat. The cone is the framework of the organization and the ice cream is its volunteer base, formed of board members and committees of the board. As volunteers finish their terms and leave the organization (those drips of ice cream racing toward their next role in life) they must leave something behind - a fresh scoop of ice cream that has been formed to fit the cone, and well prepared to withstand the heat of the day.
I have to confess my metaphor dwindled into indistinct mumbling at this point.
After gently informing me that my example was fraught with drips, if not gaping holes, my esteemed colleague agreed that one must leave something behind. I said, “Got ya! So you agree with me after all!”. Begrudgingly, she admitted that perhaps she was somewhat hasty in her previous rather heartless assertion and agreed that volunteer board members need guidance and succession planning to keep the board alive and true to its original mandate, providing continuity of purpose.
In our case, the mandate was to provide value to members through networking, professional development and certification. You probably have already guessed the organization in question. You know - the one that provides incredible value to its members and through them to the profession and many industries they serve.
So are volunteer organizations really like Cows ice cream cones in the heat? Of course not, but if that playful similie coerced you into reading this article, my purpose is served. I admit it. I am a shameless snake oil salesman.
But to get on with the real topic, the one that has you on the edge of your seat, seeking answers, allow me to suggest that in a volunteer organization servant leadership is indeed required. It is required in other organizations too, but in this one, because of the fluidity of the board and its committees, even more so.
As a president of a volunteer board or a director of a portfolio, it is your job to develop people to fill your shoes to ensure the organization continues to live on within its original mandate. Because board roles are often quite short, as normally dictated by some fairly stringent by-laws and articles of incorporation, replacing yourself with someone who has been indoctrinated into the volunteer culture of the board has to be a main preoccupation of yours. I’m sure you will agree that bringing someone onto a board with zero experience of the organization’s inner workings is not a way to do this.
So develop your replacement. Lend them a helping hand. Give them an opportunity to see how that finely tuned engine works so they can strive for the success you’ve achieved and learn from the failures you’ve experienced. Succession planning is crucial. Grooming your fellow board members for a leadership role, and encouraging them to also groom their committee members to step into their roles is one of your primary jobs as a volunteer board member.
As you ponder your role, always remember that as a steward of a volunteer organization, it is your job to leave it better than you found it. And what more effective way is there to do this than by preparing those who succeed you to reach for an even higher pinnacle of success than you and your colleagues achieved?
To those of you in the warm part of the globe, I wish you a fabulous summer season, and may you catch all those drips of delicious dairy confection before they leave the bottom of your cone. And to those of you who are not, enjoy your winter sports, resting in the certain knowledge that your ice cream will not melt.