Ep. 001: The Importance of a Management System to Support Servant Leaders

The Importance of a Management System to Support Servant Leaders

Servant leadership is often associated with successful lean transformations.  Much of the conversation revolves around leaders supporting those that they lead.  While many organizations think that implementing lean is deploying a known set of tools, it truly is about changing your organization’s culture and servant leadership is a key element to getting and keeping employees engaged.   Robert Greenleaf is known as coining the phrase “servant leadership” in 1970.  Similar to Toyota he developed some frameworks that could be applied to different organizations but not directly copied.  Some key discoveries that Robert Greenleaf defined is that “servant leadership is a lifelong journey that includes self-discovery, a desire to serve others and a commitment to lead.”

Some characteristics of servant leaders that he identified is that they are trustworthy, self-aware, humble, caring, visionary, empowering, relational, competent, good stewards and community builders.

Those characteristics sound amazing but how can this be possible in today’s departmentally driven culture where many organizations drive a scarcity mindset amongst their departmental Vice Presidents and Directors? In many organizations, everyone is fighting for scarce budget dollars and the natural inclination is for a leader to play “hardball” to get every dollar they can for their department often to the detriment of the overall organization.  Doesn’t it seem hard to remain humble, empowering and good stewards when everyone is fighting for scarce resources?

A key element that will allow the organization to begin to embrace servant leadership and drive employee engagement is alignment.  When the President and his/her direct reports don’t understand the organization’s Mission/Vision and establish a decision-supporting Management System there will be no alignment.  If there is no Management System for the organization to use as a True North, there is no guiding framework for decision making.  That leads to the scenario described above.

When a well-defined company Management System is in place, everyone in the organization knows how to make decisions and understands the leadership priorities.  Aligning and focusing everyone’s actions to a common Vision eliminates the in-fighting and hardball mentality.  By having leaders continually ask themselves if what they are doing supports the Management System, they can become more humble, relational, caring and empowering.  Their defenses can be lowered because they aren’t worried about a surprise attack from some other department, or other leaders.  While this will not be an overnight transformation- remember Greenleaf suggests it is a lifelong journey- there are some key questions you should be regularly asking yourselves as leaders.

  1. Are my actions helping my employees learn and grow?
  2. Are my actions helping my employees become more autonomous?
  3. Are my actions helping my employees become servant leaders themselves?

These three simple questions are a great starting point for personal reflection on becoming a servant leader.  From what I have observed in working with organizations, the companies use an established and published Management System have a much better chance of providing the infrastructure for Servant Leadership.  The leaders are guided by the principles in the Management System, so the decision-making process becomes much quicker and consistent allowing Leaders to focus their efforts on providing more employee support.  When employees feel supported their engagement increases, turnover decreases, and the company harnesses the power of everyone making them a force to be reckoned with.

Let me know in the comments some of the best examples of Servant Leadership that you have come across.

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