I typically do not respond to articles, columns, or other media outlets because, generally speaking, I have found that it does little good. However, on this particular occasion I was feeling that a balanced view was needed.
I read a column in the Atlanta business magazine Catalyst that prompted me to respond. The columnist was writing about Servant Leadership. You may have heard the management buzz-phrase before. Did it strike a cord with you? Is it a new idea?
To summarize the article, the author wrote that by applying certain steps and principles, you too, could be a servant leader. To imply that by putting on outward appearances you could feel good about yourself because you, as a leader, were practicing servanthood rubbed me wrong. An inner lifestyle had just been reduced to a management fad.
Too Many Jackets
I likened it to putting on the latest, trendy jacket. “Hmm, today I think I’ll try on the Servant Leadership jacket. After I’ve worn that around for a week or so, I’ll try the Resonant Leadership jacket.” And so it goes from one management trend to the next. Does putting on the jacket truly make you a servant leader or any kind of leader for that matter?
Management is not difficult for those that are naturally gifted in the area. Most of the role of managing is common sense. You’ve experienced it just like I have: There have been those bosses you have admired and would do anything for. Then there have been the bosses you’d like to throw out the window and jump out after them. Those people that are not gifted in management and that lack good sense should not be put in charge of others. If a poor manager showed issues with a little responsibility, why should we heap greater responsibility on them? Common sense says, put people in their areas of strength — you will be glad you did and they will thank you for it as well.
My litmus test for true Servant Leaders is to ask the employees in an organization their thoughts. They know who in leadership are for real and those who are putting on jackets. You can hide your poor skills for a time but, evetually, you will be found out.
So, can servant leadership be learned? Yes, but it has to become a lifestyle change and, frankly, most of us tend to be self-centered rather than others-centered (I know I do). As leaders, do we have the “guts” to stick to this management style? For those gifted with service, it will come naturally, for others it will be a lifetime of diligence. The real lasting-change needs to come from the inside not the outside.
Don’t let trendy management practices entice you. Use common sense, talk to your employees, work out of your strengths, and commit to serving others…the opposite of what conventional wisdom would say.
Now, there’s a new idea!
**I would love to hear your thoughts on this post. Comment using the link below.**
When will they learn that all management fads have a limited life? There are no “silver bullets” and no substitutes for good hard work. Worse yet is when some consultant attempts to evangelize the workforce into a new “company religion” replete with its own rituals, icons and Bible. God help (the real one) any employee who attempts to espouse an original thought or question the doctrine. Remember the Spanish inquisition? What an insult to the intelligence of the very people that the compnay relies on. What arrogance!
Successful organizations innovate. Good companies are honest with the workforce and listen to divergent views. They do not need goofy gimmicks or play games with their employees’ psyches.
When all is said and done, there is actually only one thing that successful organiztions have in common – they are successful.
Jerome, thanks for the insightful comment. -eb
Jerome, I differ with your comments. Yes, managers are all too willing to jump on the latest trends. Yes, common sense is in short supply nowadays. Nevertheless, there are huge lessons we can learn from successful organizations. Sometimes we even learn how to maintain common sense in our organizations.
There probably is no universally common denominator for success, but much of the wisdom within sucessful orgs can be distilled into parables of great value to us. The mistake is when leaders are tossed left and right by every passing trend and have no sense of identity for themselves or their org.
So, I think the key is to acknowledge your core values. As trends like Servant Leadership are introduced, you can check these models against your core values and assimilate wisdom that aligns with your org.
Let’s make sure we’re only throwing out bathwater here.
I totally agree with you. Our core values, who we and what we live by, is the only jacket we really wear. All others will never last. I think that is why the concept of servant leadership is so simple but so difficult to execute. Servant Leadership has to deal with who you are and your heart, not what you can think of or what you say. Great post.
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