Tag Archives: collaboration

Ten Principles of Servant Leadership

*This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

The following list of principles was s developed by Robert Greenleaf.  The categories are drawn from the literature, but the descriptions are in my own words.  For a more in-depth look at the Ten Principles, please visit this website, which provides a description written by Larry Spears.

Listening – A servant leader truly listens to people, not just to understand but to address needs as they arise and are communicated.  Surprisingly, humility is not listed as one of the top characteristics of Servant Leadership, but can be included here as the close cousin to listening.  Without humility, the servant leader can never learn and certainly has no reason to listen.

Empathy – Compassionate leaders care about people they are working with, the people served by the enterprise they are leading, and the community in which their organization operates, including the larger world community.

Healing – A leader who cares about people is committed to wholeness and healing.  If she recognizes a deficiency or need in a person, she works to find ways for that person to heal and to become more complete.  This is not an annoying distraction from the organizational mission or business bottom line, but an important part of building and sustaining a team of mutually trusting partners.

Awareness – A person who has formal authority in any situation, including a workplace, group project or national organization has enormous power to make a difference.  This is why it’s key to elevate people to leadership positions who have a sophisticated awareness about many things.  Awareness of the impact of their work, the patterns of behavior on their team, and the importance of gathering information from multiple sources to ensure the best way forward.

Persuasion – Leaders who care about people do not cause harm.  They recognize that forcing others to act or to take a position is a harmful action, and thus, seek to persuade people with reasoned argument and an appeal to the mission.  They are not coercive.

Conceptualization – Like Transformational Leaders, Servant Leaders provide a compelling framework for the work they are doing in concert with others.  They take care to build concepts that appeal to the hearts and minds of people and that promote values that directly relate to the mission.

Foresight – Socially responsible leaders look ahead to potential fallout and beneficial outcomes of their actions and the actions of the enterprises they lead.  They contemplate not only the ways in which their organization might benefit from specific actions but how decisions and actions impact their people and the community around them.  In other words, they take the long view.

Stewardship – The word stewardship has become a popular piece of jargon, but the principle is profound and important.  Too many stories are coming out that tell the tale of a CEO who comes on board at the eleventh hour of a business and runs it into the ground before walking away with millions of dollars and a large workforce unemployed and destitute.  A Servant Leader comes on board to rescue the business or to work with people to find ways to close the business that can benefit the largest amount of people as possible.  She takes seriously her responsibility to steward the enterprise in a way that helps the micro-community of the business or organization and the macro-community in which the enterprise operates.

Commitment to the Growth of People –  This is a big one.  Regardless of the original mission or reason that people come together, a leader who wishes to serve the common good is first and foremost committed to growing as a person, allowing others to help her grow as a person, and helping other people to grow.  Whether coming together to record a music album, making a full-length feature film, running a public school, or building a legal case, the people with formal authority to set the tone for the community of people always have their eye on the common good as the greater, over-arching purpose.  In this category, stewardship takes on a broader meaning.  What is ultimately and always stewarded is the building of a better world because people have the chance to grow.

Building Community – All of the above principles act in concert to build a positive community.  Because of the principles of listening, awareness, persuasion, stewardship, healing, awareness and empathy, there is little room for a “cult of personality.”  Furthermore, if the conceptualization of the community’s mission is clear and includes foresight, there will be a built-in understanding of the ways in which authoritarianism and “cultishness” can be avoided.  This is partly related to a commitment to the growth of people.  People can only grow if a community isn’t all about the “leader” and if there’s room for feedback and development of the leader himself.  Ultimately, this kind of community is made up of Servant Leaders, all of whom take turns to step into the role of stewarding the community’s process at one time or another.

Taking care of one another is a principle of stewardship in a world of extraordinary need.
The overarching principle that guides a leader who serves is the commitment to use one’s influence and resources to take care of others, at whatever scale.

Thoughts on facilitative leadership

By Steven J. Lawrence © 2014

 From chapter 2 of the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

Facilitative/Participative Leadership  Now, we’re getting closer to a style of leadership that takes people and innovation into account.  Leaders who take the facilitative approach encourage the participation of all members of an organization/project in key decision-making while retaining the formal authority to cast the tie-breaking vote at any time.  The idea is that those closest to the action have information that is vital to informed decision-making.  Thus, dialogue and input is consistently sought and then actions are taken which take into account the information that is learned.

It should be easy to see how gratifying this can be for participants in any group endeavor, whether a rock band, a hospital, or a public university.  For the most part, we can expect those closest to the ground to have developed more specific expertise in their particular skill (or job) than the formal leader.  Thus, it’s important to get their input for the success of the organization.  Moreover, failure to get input can also cause considerable frustration and even resentment throughout the organization.  If this were to persist, the organization or group project would eventually suffer from high turnover, lack of buy-in or investment, and the potential demise of the whole enterprise.

So, participation is key to morale and mission.  But, sometimes, this democratic approach is not enough, and can often lead to “analysis paralysis.”  At some point, after seeking the insights of others, the leader must provide explicit guidance and direction, even if some of her decisions are not universally appreciated.  Pointing the way forward from the “bully pulpit” of formal authority is especially key in times of change or crisis.

Facilitative Leadership
Leaders that build a culture of participation engender a sense of mutual trust, appreciation and investment throughout the organization. They respect and implement the insights and ideas of those closest to the action.

Thoughts on transactional leadership

From chapter 2 of the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

Transactional Leadership  This mode of leadership is often found in “middle management”, especially in large bureaucracies.  It is a strictly rules-bound method of leading a project or organization.  The principle is simple.  If you do X, you will receive Y.  If you fail to do X, you will receive -Y.  Rewards and consequences are the name of the game, and “the way we do things here” is the way we will always do things here.  If you’re late, you get written up.  If your sales rise above quota, you get a bonus.  If you write less speeding tickets than expected, you get a written reprimand.

The problem with transactional leadership (when used exclusively as a leadership style) is that innovation and change is nearly impossible.  In a constantly changing world, organizations led by transactional leaders will fail, because of the built-in, rigid and institutionalized resistance to change.  It should be easy to see how quickly change agents are targeted for removal from these places.

Transactional Leadership
Transactional Leadership is a tightly-controlled style of management in which work is heavily codified and quantified. Rewards and consequences are strictly tied to deliverables, and change and innovation is discouraged.

Thoughts on “laissez faire” leadership

I have been writing an essay about collaboration, using the process of making the album “Eleventh Hour Shine” as a case study.  To my surprise, the essay has taken a turn towards the study of leadership.

I’ve decided to post different portions of the essay in individual blog posts.  Today, I’ll present a brief passage about a style of leadership called “laissez faire” or “Delegative” Leadership.

Laissez Faire/Delegative Leadership  This leadership style seems to be the most prevalent in large bureaucracies.  The words laissez faire come from the French and mean “let” (laissez)  “do” (faire).  The phrase was born from a French economic philosophy which champions the idea that an economic system should take its own course without regulation or interference.

As far as leadership is concerned, this style has some merit in that the leader chooses not to micro-manage or interfere with subordinates.  Rather she allows the activities of the organization/project to take their own course and trusts people to do what is needed.  If the right people are hired or brought onto a project or organization -people with an internal locus of value and intrinsically high standards- then this mode of leadership might be effective.  Problem is, this is rarely if ever achieved.

Projects, businesses or organizations with this style of leadership are destined to fail because this mode of leadership doesn’t take into consideration the following factors: 1) There are certain personality types that thrive on clear and directive guidance from people with formal authority.  2) The lack of direction and oversight almost always breeds a power vacuum in which informal authority can be seized by unscrupulous individuals with psychopathic tendencies.  This is why workplace bullying is so prevalent in public bureaucratic institutions.

Laissez-Faire Leader
Laissez-Faire Leadership can lead to organizational malaise and potential chaos.

What I’ve learned about “positive politics”

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I miss graduate school.  The UMASS Boston program’s training in pedagogy was excellent, but the dual degree also focused on organizational change and dialogue, which I fell in love with.

The following list is a guide for managing the political aspects of effective management and community organizing.  It was developed during my graduate work, and the original title was “The Key Elements of Effective Representation”.

I adapted the title and language to include the broader domain of both formal and informal leadership in communities, projects and organizations.  The basic point is that leadership requires the consistent quality of trustworthiness and the intentional effort to maintain healthy relationships with colleagues, subordinates, superiors and all other stakeholders.  Some organizational scholars have called this approach “positive politics.”

KEY ELEMENTS

1.  Adopt a healthy attitude about “politics”

Politics is a neutral word. It means nothing more than a group of three or more people negotiating the ways and means for distributing resources (money, time, people) and determining who gets to have influence and how much. Positive politics, if played fairly and ethically, can create mutual respect and harmony. Without active and positive political management (see elements below), the politics of any community or project can descend into defensive maneuvering and unproductive conflict. So, adopt a healthy attitude towards your political role. It is needed.

2.  Maintain collegial relationships with all stakeholders

Even if you are not actively seeking support for something or gathering input, informally check in with colleagues, managers, subordinates, partners and other stakeholders in your community.  Most importantly, treat all with equal respect and dignity -even those who have disagreed with you or have opposed ideas and/or initiatives you have proposed in the past (see number 5). Please keep in mind that those with a lower-status position in your organization could one day be a huge resource for an initiative, so try not to slight them or exclude them.  Of course, they matter in their own right, so treat them respectfully for its own sake.  Finally, try not to adopt the anger or hardline stance of any particular faction in difficult situations (even if you share their point of view). You will need to keep your relationship with the offending party intact during these challenging circumstances, so try to remain as neutral as possible.

3.  Circulate, circulate, circulate!

Simply put, try to circulate throughout the  organization on a regular basis.  This is especially important when trying to generate support for a project or when you need input from colleagues, manager/directors or other stakeholders. But, it’s important not to feel entitled to anyone’s time. If someone is obviously occupied, politely stand aside and wait for the right moment or return at a later time.  People will appreciate it when you respect their time and space and will more readily give you their time when you come back.

4.  Distribute leadership and responsibilities

“Power” and influence are neutral energies. Over time, if they’ve been at it long enough, individuals or groups could come to acquire one or both. It is well known that power can corrupt, but the softer version of “influence” can cause burnout (people of influence are go-to people, which can take up a lot of their time and mental space). To avoid corruption and burnout, distribute leadership and responsibilities as much as possible. Share the tasks of writing letters and emails, facilitating meetings and circulating. The added bonus of sharing these responsibilities is the increased investment of others in the organization.

5.  Embrace the opposition

Every “battle” comes to an end. Sometimes a project or initiative you have proposed fails or never gains ground. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Don’t make anyone your permanent adversary. Someone who opposed your idea(s) in the past could one day become your greatest ally for an even better idea in the future. The most valuable thing about embracing the opposition, however, is not limited to maintaining a politically viable relationship for future endeavors. The simple fact is that sometimes the opposition is right. Listen carefully to the opposition in all circumstances. Even if you decide to stick to your position, their views will help inform you about the best way to proceed.

6.  Provide framing in difficult situations

As a manager/director or a community organizer, you will have developed relationships with a number of people from different sectors of the larger community.  At times, you may find yourself navigating divergent views and representing the entire spectrum of opinions around an issue, procedure or policy.

Because of your many relationships, you may be in the unique position to provide the framing around an issue or decision because of the fact that you have access to the information and perspectives provided by the various parties that you have maintained a relationship with. It is important to bear in mind that bringing these various perspectives to light  can help to move things forward, which is why the framing you provide is key.

Of course, it’s always helpful to keep in mind that it may not be YOU who needs to be provide the framing (see number 10).

Whether you choose to take sides or to remain neutral about something, try to find a way to respectfully surface each point of view in an open forum. You can do this during meetings or in the writing of letters, proposals or memos. However you choose to proceed, frame all points of view in a clear narrative and connect them to the shared values, goals and vision of the  community.

7.  Gather input to make buy-in unnecessary

If you want a project or initiative to be successful, your colleagues and other stakeholders will need to know that you have consulted them every step of the way. Gathering information and input is the best way to generate support. People love to support projects in which they have served as one of its architects. This goes for writing, too. Jot down the phrases, metaphors and tidbits that you gather from those you’ve consulted and include them in the writing associated with the project. However small, staff input in the writing and framing goes a long way in shoring up support.

8.  Tell the truth always, but know your audience

Lying will get you nowhere and will erode your informal authority and influence in a New York minute. The fact that you were untruthful can circulate very quickly no matter how sophisticated you are in presenting a favorable image. If you have formal authority (such as a CEO, manager or administrator) you might have some more leeway here, but, in most cases, it is best to avoid deception and trickery.  Once you lose trust with people, it’s difficult to get it back.

However, be strategic about who you share information with. A gossipy colleague who enjoys ridiculing others may not be the best person to communicate with in certain situations. While maintaining transparency and stating your intentions are laudable goals, use caution, discernment and balance in your communications. Not everyone is an honest broker.

Always remember, too, that there will be circumstances that require confidentiality. Never repeat anything told to you in confidence. It will be regarded as a betrayal, and if word gets around that you betrayed someone’s confidence, nobody will trust you.

Finally -resist, resist, resist the temptation to ridicule others or to gossip about them. A “juicy” or entertaining piece of information might offer the satisfaction of one-upping a potential adversary in the short run, but it will sully your professional reputation in the long run. Besides, it’s mean, petty, and just plain wrong.

 

Tell the truth and be respectful always. As a leader with formal or informal authority, your reputation around issues of honesty and trust is the highest political capital you have. You don’t want to squander that.

9.  Respect that politics is often about perception

Five words. How will this be perceived?

The following bullet points will help you to navigate the stormy waters of the perception game.

  • Use language strategically and constructively. Avoid making absolute statements when possible by using the following words and phrases: might, may, could, possible, possibly, potential, potentially, commonly understood to be, general consensus that… When possible, make general statements about issues that commonly surface in the arena in which you are operating.
  • Connect your ideas and concerns with the organization’s mission as much as possible.  Try to avoid confusion by being explicit about your intentions in all matters.  When possible, connect those intentions with the intentions (purposes and goals) of the organization.
  • Share the credit and tasks of writing emails, letters, action plans and reports. This will help to maintain the collective spirit of personal investment among the organization’s leadership, workers and stakeholder partners.   It also keeps the focus on the organization and its goals, rather than on any single person.

10.  Don’t make it about “you”

Don’t take anything personally. You could be lionized as a hero, maligned as a phony, or tolerated as a nuisance. You might even  be ignored. No matter what, don’t make it about you and try not to let others make it about you. Of course, if someone expresses gratitude for something you’ve done, graciously accept it and walk on. Remember, everybody loves a hero, but not nearly as much as a fallen one. Don’t buy your own press. And make it about others.

Personal development as primary value

An important idea suddenly struck me.

It happened just last night after a conflict-resolution process, in which I served as mediator… and only weeks after the sudden death of a person very dear to me.

Last night, at the end of one of these meetings, I came to the conclusion that the essence of a healthy community is the open commitment of its members to personal development.

Through the years, I’ve participated in a variety of communities, projects, and organizations, including public schools, rock bands, theatre productions, nonprofits, support groups, various workplace environments, and even local restaurants pubs.   From my experiences in these and many other social contexts, I have been able to observe a wide variety of outcomes.

What I can say with great certainty is this:

If personal development is not a primary value in a community, things always go badly.

 

A simple axiom for personal development is the willingness to think of ourselves as a work in progress.  To allow ourselves to experience the discomfort of being around someone we don’t like or don’t know.  To allow for ambiguity and the possibility that our position may not be entirely objective or even accurate.

The courage to be with discomfort and ambiguity gives us an opportunity to become more flexible, less rigid, and, thus more emotionally responsive.  This, in turn, increases our value to the community, because our flexibility makes it easier for us to respond more intuitively and more appropriately to situations that come about.

How does this work?

By keeping ourselves and those around us as an open question, we have a much better chance for accuracy in our understanding of what’s going on with us, with others, and with the situation.  And, for a community that has a specific mission, that accuracy matters.

But, it takes a certain amount of courage, because embracing discomfort and ambiguity can be painful and sometimes even scary or embarrassing.  It’s worth the effort, though, because when conflicts arise (and they always will), there is an opportunity for a community to resolve those conflicts, learn important lessons, and evolve.

Without a commitment to personal development, a community’s norms, policies, and legacy will fail.  Systems are a support, but maturity and awareness are the essential fuel. So, this is how I define personal development.

It is late at night, and I am about to get on a bus from New York City to Boston.

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The arts as potent meaning-maker

Good afternoon.

I’ve read this quote from Kurt Vonnegut before.

The arts in my own life, of late, has been a potent meaning-maker… aside from good people and their kind acts.

What I love most about my current projects is their inherent collaborative nature.  Working in the studio on recordings with my co-producer is like going into a magical workplace where mutual respect, creativity and vision is the order of the day.

It certainly helps that we and the musicians of Pragnus Gray Collective believe in what we are doing.

Nicely put, Mr. Vonnegut.

Kurt

Post tragic resilience

Good afternoon.

I got back to work today on a recording project called “Eleventh Hour Shine”.

The song we are working on is called “Hollowed by the Sun.” It’s about a male bee who is dying under the scorching sun, caught between a window pane and a screen.  It is one of a few songs on the record that deals with the issue of death awareness.

It has only been two weeks since the sudden death of a loved one, and it’s interesting that the song that was interrupted by death is itself about death and dying.

It was healthy to get back to the project, but I felt somewhat deflated and perfunctory as we proceeded.

But, there was progress. As they say in self-help circles, one day at a time.

*The photo below of two bees was taken by Anthony Lee.

Hollowed by the sun lyricsIMG_3936