Project Management

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
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Suzan Cho
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Graham Briggs
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The Servant Leadership Way: Virtues that bring Results

Categories: servant leadership

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?

Posted by Suzan Cho on: January 10, 2018 11:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

To Create Change: Think Corals, Chimpanzees (and their Project Leaders)

Films are so powerful in telling stories via visuals and narratives. They create change by telling stories that reach the heart and inspire action from within.

Recently, my friends and I attended a documentary film screening of CHASING CORAL at New York City because of Victoria Orlowski, a friend from work. Her son Jeff Orlowski is the young director of CHASING CORAL and CHASING ICE (2014 Emmy Award Winner). We are super proud of him!

Today, I would like to share with you (to state the obvious) some of his awesome project/servant leadership!

  • First of all, Jeff listened to Richard Vevers regarding the “Third Global Coral Bleaching” event and had the foresight to make the critical decision to start the project.
  • I love Richard’s favorite quote: “With a small motivated team, there is almost nothing that cannot be achieved.” Agile mindset!
  • Jeff had brought together scientists, filmmakers and engineers who work expertly together with TRUST for the same goals.
  • There was no mention of passion in the film, but we witnessed it throughout. They inspired a shared vision.
  • The team was cool under pressure when the first set of filming camera failed.
  • The empathy and competence (technical expertise) were evident by the extreme images and narratives: coral stunning beauty beyond words and coral “death” beyond imagination.
  • There are a lot of creativity and innovation in the film under Jeff's directorship! Do you know that Jeff did not major in film making? They have "invented" the deep sea camera to capture the images as warranted. They were able to connect with best of the best and be fast learners in challenging scenarios, but shine through out the ordeal in simplifying the most complex phenomena and become the perfect translator of the complex science to the world.
  • Project leadership in problem solving and decision-making is crucial. Hats off to Jeff for his strong leadership when he made the tough call to move on to the coral-bleaching site when they could not rely on technology due to many constraints.
  • Kudos to Jeff and his friend Zack for their stewardship and commitment to work hard despite harsh conditions!
  • Jeff and his team crowd-sourced from the globe and built the community that contributed to the film and its success.
  • I am absolutely impressed and inspired by the Corals transformation and stress response (in order not to spoil the fun, need to keep it in suspense for you to experience it yourself :-)
  • Nature and human resiliency are truly amazing!
  • New projects that started at the end of the film shared the power of healing and gave us hope and optimism to move on and work towards a better tomorrow.

Mentors are very powerful in our lives and in our leadership journey. I learned from Victoria that Dr. Jane Goodall had a great influence on Jeff. It started when Jeff attended one of Dr. Goodall speaking event while he was in high school and he chose Anthropology major in college because of her. She is one of many mentors in Jeff's creative journey.

Dr. Jane Goodall devotes her life to the chimps and she is one of the instructors for MASTERCLASS. Dr. Goodall demonstrated and taught us Love and Compassion always. Empathy is critical to observe behaviors and to help us know the right questions to ask. Her unwavering teaching is all about Hope, how human brains solve problems, the resilience of the nature and our indelible human spirit. It is very touching to see the chimps embrace Jane. It is Love! She pointed out that the difference between humans and chimps is our sophisticated language and we are encouraged to use it well!

I now understand that Jeff drew his strength from his mentors as well as his Mom and family and the community. Jeff also shared during his Q&A that he simply does not use disposable plastics. We all can make a simple change every single day in our lives that would have immense impact to our environments.

Suzan, Nelson, Lucy, Victoria and Jeff Orlowski (who took the selfie)

CHASING CORAL is a film directed by Jeff Orlowski. It was a 3 1/2 year project, filmed with 500+ hours underwater, included footage from over 30 countries and was made with the support of over 500 people around the world.

Coral and Chimpanzees: Their project leaders told us amazing life stories and taught us incredible lessons! Now, it is up to us to make simple changes every day that will have long lasting impact. The decision is ours!

FYI – Film Review (CHASING CORAL will be available via Netflix on 7/14/17)

Posted by Suzan Cho on: June 21, 2017 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

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 (17)

Focused Leaders stay fit and in harmony!

Have you come across a Chinese idiom ”野人獻曝 “ Yěrén xiàn pù from Song during the Warring Period of China (around 400 BC)? The literal translation was “A peasant farmer wishes to present to the emperor the greatest benefit of the sun (the offer: when the sun shines on our backs keeps us warm and comfortable during the winter season)” It was obviously from the farmer’s perspective, not knowing that the emperor had a fur coat and was well provided for in the grand palace :-). This farmer’s naive realization from real life experiences then transcends the idiom into an expression of “providing a humble commonly-known small contribution to the elite”. With deep sincerity, this is what encouraged me to share with you today. I do treasure every moment when life is integrated and in harmony. All the best wishes for carrying out your goals with great results, and much success throughout the New Year and many more!

My first share is Daniel Goleman’s The Focused Leader for staying fit:

Daniel Goleman developed the five components of “emotional intelligence” and his 1995 book of the same title popularized the term and brought EQ to the bestseller’s list. We all can use a little more emotional intelligence to increase our wellbeing and our success. I highlight the Relationship Management as it touches upon the Inspirational Leadership, Developing Others, and Influence, being a Change Catalyst, Conflict Management, Building Bonds, and Teamwork & Collaboration while Social Awareness encompasses Empathy, Organizational Awareness and Service Orientation.

In this 2013 article at Harvard Business Review, Goleman discussed the three modes of attention as focusing on self, focusing on others and focusing on the wider world (similar to the Chinese classics “The Great Learning”: the progression to create harmony in the world. “禮記大學”:格物、致知、誠意、正心、修身、齊家、治國、平天下). Goleman stated “Every leader needs to cultivate this triad of awareness, in abundance and in the proper balance, because a failure to focus inwards leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.”   

Goleman further elaborated "the Empathy Triad" in focusing on others as it is more than just a single attribute. They are: Cognitive empathy - the ability to understand another person's perspective; Emotional empathy - the ability to feel what someone else feels; Empathic concern - the ability to sense what another person needs from you.

Goleman concludes, "A focused leader is not the person concentrating on the three most important priorities of the year, or the most brilliant systems thinker, or the one most in tune with the corporate culture. Focused leaders can command the full range of their own attention: They are in touch with their inner feelings, they can control their impulses, they are aware of how others see them, they understand what others need from them, they can week out distractions and also allow their minds to roam widely, free of preconceptions."

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to focus when and where we need our skills and competence the most for leadership effectiveness? The world needs more focused leaders. It all takes practice and diligence. Let’s continue the journey and keep going!

My second share is the 38 ways yoga keeps fit:

We need to be willing to exercise our brain with the attention and intent and staying fit emotionally as well as physically for the whole body. This leads to my sharing of the 38 ways yoga improves health: a personal experience and research from Timothy McCall, MD. This is the most comprehensive list I have come across. Besides healing and building strength, yoga helps us better serve others.

Maybe it will inspire us to spring into action. Take the 30-day challenge. No matter what kind of sports or exercises you enjoy, simply keep it up and do it regularly with friends or with smiles. Life is better when we stay fit and in harmony. I am very thankful. It will be a beautiful and fantastic year! Namaste!


Posted by Suzan Cho on: January 03, 2017 11:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Lead with Compassion and through Trust and Ownership

In a complex and ever changing environment, would you trust someone who's answer is a definite "I know" or someone who said "I don't know" with a degree of certainty? Be a thinker. Ask "Why?"!

In an ideal world when everything is known, traditional Project Management (waterfall in the field of software development) and Command & Control authoritative style organizations may work (in the low trust and low ownership environment) for a while. Now, let's qualify that: everything is relative and it truly depends deeply on the experiences of the team, the objectives and the results one wishes to obtain.

Above the mundane, I advocate building The Agile Culture, Leading through Trust and Ownership (a book I highly recommended), practice principle based learning and distributed leadership (as in servant leadershiplead without a title and with self-organizing teams of professionals). The choice to serve and to lead is not something we do; it is an expression of our being.

I will share with you the valuable Trust-Ownership Model from The Agile Culture book mentioned above by Pollyanna Pixton, Paul Gibson and Niel Kickolaisen. Amazing things happen when you lead as an enabler, not manage as a controller.

Allow me to end with a quote from Lao-Tzu.

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Let's see the world as a mirror reflection of ourselves and start with self-compassion, value diverse opinions, and as Skip Prichard had it: "Leading with Others In Mind".

May our world be full of magical moments when all involved treasure the experiences and become better servant leaders because of us!


Posted by Suzan Cho on: July 27, 2016 06:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

I'd rather be a failure at something I love, than a success at something I hate.

- George Burns



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