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
Tolga Özel
Graham Briggs
Cecilia Boggi

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The Elusive PMO

Love that tiger

There is an old saying in the Medical  world - “There are no healthy individuals in the world. The ones that pretend to be must have been insufficiently examined for physical and/or psychological issues”. And, for the latter, the “usual” split is between “neurotics and persons with character disorders”.

Neurotics are individuals who assume too much responsibility and, when in conflict, they always blame themselves. Their speeches are full of phrases like: “I ought to”, “I should/shouldn’t” - illustrating their assumed “inferiority” doubled always by (what they feel that are) wrong decisions.  Au contraire, individuals with character disorders run away from responsibility and, in conflict, they always blame “the world”. The speech of an individual with character disorder will rely on “I can’t/couldn’t” or “I have/had to”, always accusing “no power of choice” and the external forces that act beyond his or her control. There is also a combination - called “character neurotics” - describing individuals who fail to find the balance in assuming responsibility in different situations.

In fact, the whole classification is built around responsibility and the pain and effort that this might bring. Assuming it too much and at a wrong time can bring a lot of bad consequences (and associated pain). Running away from it in crucial moments can ruin everything - results, relationships etc. Finding the right balance constitutes one of the most difficult problems of our lives.  

And, unfortunately, nowadays, existing environments don’t make it easier for us. All around us, there are forces that exert pressure and these forces are getting bigger and bigger: tighter deadlines, higher payments, greater expectations etc. We start to feel psychologically unsafe and either attempt to pass the responsibility to other individuals/organisations or assume too much, get too exposed and burn out quickly in a huge amount of stress.

Responsibility has become the “tiger in the room”. We either run like hell from it or jump  in front of it, waiting to be eaten. As soon as we no longer have the instruments - the whip and chair - to tame the tiger and to show our power, we run and hide or expose and accept the fate. Instead, we should use our authority and try to cope, dominate and even, love the “tiger”.

In this last case, the effort is huge. It requires discipline, a lot less ego and more emotion than rationality.  We suffer more and gratification is delayed. However, this way our self-growth will get a boost and, most importantly, as leaders, we will be ready to help and nurture our team members’ growth/development.

Let me recap: use authority instead of power, delay gratification to obtain a more sustainable result, less ego (other-focused), more emotion and feelings and, most of all, loving that “tiger” - knowing when/what is your responsibility and when/how to let it go and trust your team, your peers, your colleagues. For me (at least), this sounds a lot like Servant Leadership.

How about you - Are you ready to take responsibility and “love the tiger”?

Posted by Catalin Dogaru on: June 09, 2017 03:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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 (14)

Are we ready for Servant Leadership?

What do we need to make things work?

In any field, any job, any team, any country - what must we have in order to be sure we are heading to success?

Ask these questions to different people and, for sure, you will get different “ingredients” that are mandatory to complete any task/project/endeavor/work. But, at the same time, in 90% of the cases, one element will always be on the list.

And that element is leadership.

Immaterial and shapeless, always there, but not easy to find, leadership is seen as the panacea for every major challenge. Of course, we don’t ignore the small “pills” from the soft skills batch (e.g. negotiation, motivation etc.) or from the technical assortment (e.g. project management, business analysis etc.). But, every time (lately, at least), the general impression seems to be that they work only in combination with leadership.

According to every (major) “business” book, in order to be successful, you need skills, luck, stars to be aligned correctly and so on. But, apart from all of those, you need leadership!

Every successful recipe and every successful story is not about the despair, the stress and the sick to the stomach that burden the hero before triumph. It’s about how he or she grabs his or her own destiny with bare hands and seizes the right moments, overcoming the challenges. It’s about how he or she exhibits true “leadership”, most of the time, despite the opposition, resistance and/or lack of trust coming from the team or any other stakeholder.

Again, the leadership-panacea worked. The hero-leader “administered” it to the team and it brought results. It doesn’t matter that some of them didn’t respond to this “treatment” or just showed “side-effects” (like demotivation, low efficiency etc.). What matters is that we have another successful story about another “great” leader, ready to share his “unique” example. We have another example of  “I did it my way and it worked, thus I am a great leader!”.

And... the tragically comic part is that most of us want it this way. We like the lonely hero (leader?) who manages to get himself or herself “reborn” and wins against all odds, despite the ultimatums.. We are fine with “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs” as long as we aren’t the “eggs”.  Ultimately, we savor the “winning” stories and most likely, picture ourselves in the same situations, showing the same power, pushing everybody until their last drop and succeeding no matter what.

Then, in this “power-hailing” environment, what are my chances as a Servant Leader?

Servant Leadership is all about promoting a virtuous cycle “serve<->lead”, focusing on the people and not on self and leading with authority, not power. It’s about patience, kindness, respectfulness, commitment, sacrifice. It’s about finding and understanding the “WHY?” for every one of your followers so you can contribute to his or her development. No universal recipe, no panacea and, most important, no you or we but they.

And, even if it is about others-focused, the change has to start with you, as a Servant Leader. It’s not about what I can do with you or to you (as it was in the hero stories mentioned above). It’s about what I can do for you. So, is there any room for Servant Leadership?

We (meaning our two servant leadership trainers from my company) had recently a workshop with several leaders (CEO, CFO, CTO etc) coming from different companies. They wanted to get acquainted with Servant Leadership and see if this can be a good approach for them (they lead teams with 10 or more people). We did an experiment at the beginning and asked every each one of them to tell us their leadership challenges from both directions - as a leader and as a follower. And, for the follower part, we ask them to make an effort and tell us also what they believe the challenges are for their team (their followers). The list that resulted in the end was impressive but, at the same time, pretty common for this level of management: making people understand the vision and becoming more independent, eliminate fear of outsourcing, having people assuming responsibility and ownership and so one and so forth (on the leadership part) and fear, lack of trust, lack of vision etc. (on the follower side).

We asked also for some solutions to attach to this list. And here we had the most interesting revelations:

1.     All of the solutions were focused on what to do TO and WITH the people in order to tackle the lack of vision or bringing independence. “FOR the people” was completely ignored.

2.     None of the solutions were actually related to the leader himself - what he needs to change in his behaviour and/or his approach. Everything was meant for the other side - the followers

3.     None of them even remotely considered the possibility of understanding WHY the people in their teams behave in such a way that they bring these challenges on the table, WHY they express fear, lack of trust etc.

Even more, when we suggested going back and find out the WHY (the root cause, if you like) for each one of the team members, some of them smiled ironically. In their opinion, that “Why” mumbo jumbo is just about motivating and engaging people. And they already did that ONCE in the past! At this moment, they wanted a clear solution (“pill”?) on how to make them independent, on how to eliminate fear and lack of trust. They needed to take action and show the direction to the team. A suggestion to serve by exploring the needs of each member seemed rather ubiquitous, time consuming and useless (as they already did it ONCE).

Basically, the conclusion was that this is a “tough world” and the leader needs to take action now and to decide what’s best for the team. Competition is fierce, results are needed so we don’t have time for “mellow” stuff like concentrating on meeting people’s needs, finding the why, serve and make sure that the team members perform at their highest potential.

Interesting, isn’t it? There were about 15 companies represented there, with more than 1500 employees (all together). For all of them and for all of us looking for great leadership, I keep and convey my message that closes every presentation I do on Servant Leadership: Anyone can be a Servant Leader.

But are we ready for Servant Leadership?

Posted by Catalin Dogaru on: April 13, 2016 05:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)
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