Servant Leadership BY JAMES HESKETT

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With servant leadership, a leader’s primary role is to serve employees. Everyone from Lao-Tzu to Max De Pree thinks this a wonderful model. Why, then, is this style so rare among CEOs? HBS Professor James Heskett ponders the topic in this column, which first appeared on the HBS Working Knowledge website.

Servant leadership is an age-old concept, a term loosely used to suggest that a leader’s primary role is to serve others, especially employees. I witnessed a practical example of it at a ServiceMaster board meeting in the 1990s when CEO William Pollard spilled a cup of coffee prior to the board meeting.

Instead of summoning someone to clean it up, he asked a colleague to get him cleaning compound and a cloth, things easily found in a company that provided cleaning services. Whereupon he proceeded to get down on his hands and knees to clean up the spill himself. The remarkable thing was that board members and employees alike hardly noticed as he did it. It was as if it was expected in a company with self-proclaimed servant leadership.

Lao-Tzu wrote about servant leadership in the fifth-century BC: “The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware…. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’”

It is natural, rightly or wrongly, to relate servant leadership to the concept of an inverted pyramid organization in which top management “reports” upward to lower levels of management. At other times it has been associated with organizations that have near-theological values (for example, Max De Pree’s leadership at Herman Miller, as expressed in his book, Leadership is an Art, that emphasizes the importance of love, elegance, caring, and inclusivity as central elements of management). In that regard, it is also akin to the pope’s annual washing and kissing of the feet as part of the Holy Thursday rite.
The modern era of servant leadership began with a paper, The Servant as Leader, written by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. In it, he said: “The servant leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead … (vs. one who is leader first…) … The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons … (and become) more likely themselves to become servants?”

Now it appears that a group of organizational psychologists, led by Adam Grant, are attempting to measure the impact of servant leadership on leaders, not just those being led. Grant describes research in his recent book, Give and Take, that suggests that servant leaders are not only more highly regarded than others by their employees and not only feel better about themselves at the end of the day but are more productive as well. His thesis is that servant leaders are the beneficiaries of important contacts, information, and insights that make them more effective and productive in what they do even though they spend a great deal of their time sharing what they learn and helping others through such things as career counseling, suggesting contacts, and recommending new ways of doing things.

Further, servant leaders don’t waste much time deciding to whom to give and in what order. They give to everyone in their organizations. Grant concludes that giving can be exhausting but also self-replenishing. So in his seemingly tireless efforts to give, described in the book, Grant makes it a practice to give to everyone until he detects a habitual “taker” that can be eliminated from his “gift list.”
Servant leadership is only one approach to leading, and it isn’t for everyone. But if servant leadership is as effective as portrayed in recent research, why isn’t it more prevalent? What do you think?

To Read More:
Max De Pree, Leadership is an Art (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1987)
Adam Grant, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (New York: Viking Press, 2013)
Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader (Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, 2008)
C. William Pollard, The Soul of the Firm (New York: HarperBusiness and Grand Rapids, MI: ZondermanPublishingHouse, 1996)

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Greasing the Skids

Have you heard the phrase “greasing the skids”?

The phrase may come from logging.  During the period of the “skid” method it was necessary for one man to follow the team to lubricate the “skid” with oil so that the logs would slide easily. –Oregonian (Portland), 3 Jan. 1890.
The “skid-greaser,”  halting at every two steps to grease the worn skid over which the logs were about to pass. –Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 1893
The cream made enough butter to feed the camp and grease the skid roads, to boot. –Walter Blair, Tall Tale America, 1937

How are you at greasing the skids at work?  Our roles as manager/leader (many times) is the be the skid-greaser – insuring that things get done easier, smoothly, efficiently, etc. 

In our business, we introduced online account opening nearly 2 1/2 years ago.  Folks could now begin a brand new banking relationship with us without having to visit a branch.  That was a new way to do things!  But, once someone became a member (we’re a credit union), we would send them out a form letter, signed by our CEO, that would welcome them with all the flare and excitement of and IRS document.  [yawn!]  There had to be a better way to do this.

If a person chose to open an account online (something pretty cool to do), then we needed to welcome them in a non-traditional manner.  I started to noodle an idea of welcoming them via a video link embedded in an email.  I shared this idea with our Marketing team.  I wrote a rough draft of a script and suggested an employee who could “pull off” the acting part of this welcome video. 

Next, my eServices team began to talk about how this video could/should lead to “onboarding” new members. They began to meet with a rep from Marketing.  This collaborative group started to meet regularly to talk about how we could deepen the relationship with these newest members.  The work and results of the work have proven to be quick effective.  New members are acquiring more of our products/services and are very satisfied with us.  Note:  most of these new members have not physically spoken to us.  This has all been done in a virtual basis. 

Why share this?  I played basically no further role in this process after sharing my initial thoughts.  My team and Marketing took that first idea and, with no obstruction from me, ran with it.  I greased the skids. 

So here’s your question:  what process or initiative are you working on that you (as leader/manager) need to begin greasing the skids for? 

We can either be a log jam for our teams in their work or we can get ahead of the work and grease the skids.  This is a great opportunity to serve your team and watch them work collaboratively.  It’s ok to get out of the way, as long as you are there to help keep the process going and flowing.  Remove obstacles.  Encourage the team.  Give them resources.  And when they get great results, praise them.  Brag about them.  Show them the next opportunity. 

Just keep on greasing the skids. greasing the skids

4 Ways Supervisors Frustrate Their Employees by Michael Hyatt

I enjoy Michael Hyatt’s insight.  This blog article is a good one.

 

“When I first became President of Thomas Nelson, I began hosting an event called “Pizza with the Prez.” Once a month I invited a different workgroup to have lunch with me—without their supervisor being present.

A Frustrated Employee - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/J-Elgaard, Image #16731921

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/J-Elgaard

This event provided an opportunity for me to get unfiltered feedback. It was one of my favorite activities. It also proved to be one of the most productive.

It confirmed what I thought was true: The further you move up the chain-of-command, the less likely it is you will get the truth. Information is often filtered, spun, and managed. People either tell you what they want you to know—or think you want to hear.

Some time ago, I read The Last Czar, a biography about the life of Czar Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia. While his generals were brutally suppressing dissent, they told him civil unrest was the result of foreign influence and assured him his own people loved him.

The Czar didn’t have any other source of information. When the Communists took over, he was caught by surprise and forced to abdicate. Sadly, the Bolsheviks eventually executed him and his entire family. It is one of the saddest stories I have ever read.

Though extreme, his story demonstrates the difficulty of getting good information at the top. If you are a leader in any capacity, you must develop a pipeline for unfiltered feedback. “Pizza with the Prez” was one of the ways I did this.

Typically, I had ten to twelve people join me for lunch in the boardroom. After a few “icebreaker questions,” I always asked them:

  • What do you like about Thomas Nelson and want to see us continue?
  • What do you not like about Thomas Nelson and want to see us stop doing?

Although I only scheduled an hour of time together, it was always a challenge to finish on schedule. I was always amazed at how open people were and how many good ideas they had.

I have also noticed a recurring theme: most people’s frustration at work is inflicted by their supervisors.

Don’t misunderstand me. These workers loved their colleagues. They loved the company. But they continued to be frustrated by leaders who unwittingly hindered their productivity.

Here are the four most common complaints I heard. See if they ring true in your experience.

  1. Supervisors call too many meetings. Many of them are a waste of time. The issues could easily be handled by e-mail. Even those that should be called last twice as long as is necessary. This is because they don’t have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish or a specific agenda to get them there.
  2. Supervisors are often late to their own meetings. Since they called the meeting, the other attendees can’t start without them. As a result, they waste a lot of time waiting for the leader to show up. This makes them feel disrespected.
  3. Supervisors don’t really understand the work process. They don’t appreciate the amount of time it takes to complete certain tasks. Consequently, they sit on—or slow-walk—approvals and bog down the whole process. By the time the worker gets a response, they are in crisis mode. If a deadline is missed, they get blamed. This creates a lot of unnecessary stress on everyone.
  4. Supervisors are not responsive. They don’t answer their e-mails. They don’t return their voice mail messages. Workers often feel like they are sending e-mails into a black hole. By the time the manager does respond, the issue is resolved or it has escalated to a new level of urgency. Why can’t they just respond more quickly?

More than likely, you are not guilty of these behaviors. But, if you are, I hope you’ll take a moment and try to see how frustrating this can be to your teammates. You may not be able to change your boss, but you can change yourself and provide a better environment for the people you are leading.”

 

Read more of Michael’s writing on  “Intentional Leadership” at:  http://michaelhyatt.com/

 

Service Because-I-Have-To vs. Service-That-Respects-and-Sells

Several years ago, I flew to Las Vegas for a roundtable discussion with a corporate strategic planner.  The journey to Las Vegas reminded me of some great lessons in customer service.

My flight out of my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana was delayed.  By the time I reached Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I had missed my connecting flight to Las Vegas.  I eventually found my airline’s customer service (merely in name only I soon discovered) counter to find out what my options would be.

The customer service clerk, or as I like to refer to her as – the “hey, I just work here” lady – was most unhelpful.  I had to direct most of the conversation and suggest possible solutions to my problem (which I did not cause).  Her only solution initially was to get me on the 8:30 pm flight (it was 3 pm in Chicago now).

I asked to be put on stand by on an earlier flight.  She reluctantly did that.  I then had to ask where the gate was since after “serving” me, she was ready for the next person in line.

Once I got to my new gate, I had a question for the clerks working the counter.  I stood there for nearly 3 minutes (I timed it) before anyone would look at or talk to me (no one else was in line and there were 4 people working the counter – they were all talking with one another.  Once I had someone’s attention, it was obvious to me that I had interrupted their “team moment”.  The responses to my questions were abrupt and cold.  I was able to get a seat, and I was finally off to Las Vegas.

Once I arrived at my hotel, the service I had experienced changed dramatically.  I was welcomed with smiles and my name was used several times during the check-in process.  Every encounter I had at this hotel was consistent, professional, and friendly.

Do consumers have a choice of what airline to fly?  Yes, though the “customer service clerks” at my airline acted as though they were the only airline and what they dished out to be service was poor and disrespectful at best.

Do consumers have a choice of what hotel to stay at in Las Vegas?  Absolutely.  And the customer service team at my hotel had obviously been trained to provide the very best in service to insure that they have repeat customers and that word would spread from their guests to friends, family, and relatives.  So far, I would recommend this place (by the way, I stayed at the Monte Carlo Resort).

Do consumers have a choice of where they bank, buy their autos, do their grocery shopping in your community?  Sure they do.  What are you and your team doing today to insure that you are creating personal promoters and providing superior service that will sell your product and/or experience that truly will meet an individual’s, family’s, or business’s needs?

Common sense, respectful, professional customer service works.  Do it and you’ll make a difference today.