Tag Archives: collegiality

Servant Leadership in a World of Extraordinary Need (Part II)

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

The world has always been in extraordinary need, and that’s not going to change.  We live on a planet with natural laws, including weather patterns, ecosystems, and the presence of a large variety of organisms all competing with one another for survival.  The common reality faced by all organisms is the inevitability of death and the desire to continue on with living until that inevitable event happens.

For individual human beings, survival includes the need to be safe, accepted, nourished and happy as defined by each individual.  A significant portion of our survival is addressed by the development of society, which includes the development of local, national and international laws and armed services which protect us, physical infrastructures that transport and house us, agricultural systems that feed us, medical services that heal us, and institutions that organize, educate and serve us.

So, we can’t get away from the fact that human beings need organizations, both small and large to take care of our world.   We are continually organizing resources, building/managing institutions which curate and distribute those resources, and placing people in leadership positions to provide direction in the management of those resources. Leadership is also needed to facilitate the ongoing development and management of abstract resources like scientific knowledge, political and economic theory, moral frameworks and religious/spiritual systems.

Like it or not, we will always need organizations, which means that we will always need leaders.

Put in the plainest possible terms, human beings are called upon to be stewards of our world, and this means we are sometimes called upon to take initiative and to step out in front of others to influence the direction of that stewardship.  In the best possible scenario, those of us who choose to step out possess the fundamental asset that best qualifies us to ask others to place their trust in us: empathy.

In optimal circumstances, people in leadership positions care about people and act in good faith to actively serve them.   But, even a cursory glance at the leadership landscape reveals to us that many leaders operate out of narcissism, ego-centric agendas, and short-term gains at the expense of others, and frequently act with a destructive, even sadistic need to triumph over people.

The world is burning, because we fail to recognize the traits of narcissistic leadership and continue to promote narcissistic leaders into positions of power throughout the entire maze of society’s institutions.  We need to learn how to spot these people before elevating them.  But, more importantly, we need to learn how to spot those we can trust to take responsible stewardship of our resources.

It’s time for us to identify the traits we should expect from  genuinely caring leaders and to promote the understanding of those traits far and wide, if we hope to adequately attend to the extraordinary needs of the world we share.

We can start by examining the characteristics and behaviors of Servant Leaders.

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Leaders who are servants first, will work with others to provide stewardship in a world of extraordinary need.

Servant Leadership in a World of Extraordinary Need, (Part I)

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

 

In early October, I was walking with a friend.  We were discussing the topic of compassion, and he said something striking.

“Compassion is not boundless.  To be effective, it needs to be channelled into a specific locality or sphere in which you have the influence to make at least a part of the world a better place.”

This quote is a good starting place for introducing the concept of Servant Leadership, because the sphere of influence and the compassionate vision of a Servant Leader is broad indeed.

The term Servant leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, who founded the “Center for Applied Ethics” in 1964.  After he died in 1990, the name of his organization was changed to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.  At the present time, the Servant Leadership movement representing the ideas of Robert Greenleaf is under the stewardship of Larry Spears.

 

What is Servant Leadership?

 

Greenleaf spent more than 40 years after early retirement researching management, leadership, education, and organizational culture.  Over time, he came to the conclusion that the institutions in this country -both public and private- are suffering from a “crisis in leadership.”

In the Essay that started it all, Servant as Leader, Greenleaf introduces a vision of leadership in which leaders see themselves as servants first and leaders second.  Leadership is viewed as an instrument of serving the greater good, not as an end itself, and the search for and acquisition of power or influence is always subsumed into the overarching desire to be of service.

Servant Leaders are fundamentally about people and define the stakeholders in their sphere of influence quite broadly, including colleagues, subordinates, boards of directors/trustees, clients and even the world at large.  They place the needs of their people as primary and will not sacrifice the needs of the organization they lead in the service of furthering their own careers.

Before I elaborate on the conceptual framework around Servant Leadership, I want to say a few words about the title I chose for this section.  The wording of the title was borrowed from an article by legal scholar David Yamada, the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill.  His title is “The social responsibilities of intellectuals at a time of extraordinary need.”  The article is worth a read, as are most of the articles David has written.  I do not know David personally, but at the present time, he is one of my favorite authors in the area of workplace ethics and social responsibility.

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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.