COMMON PROBLEMS FACING TODAY’S LEADER
In today’s fast-paced and turbulent environment, as a leader you struggle with the demands and burdens of assuming the mantle of leadership. You truly want to be a dedicated and effective leader, but you feel on the verge of burn-out as you face ongoing challenges which never seem to end. Your employees don’t seem as motivated, they’ve lost their commitment to the larger vision, and they’re not as productive as you’d like them to be. You’re also tired of putting out fires and wish people would stop complaining, and just do their work.
And to make matters worse, you often feel isolated and believe that nobody really appreciates what you’re going through. You ask yourself – who can I trust to share my burdens with? Where can I go for help to turn things around?
If you can relate to these issues, then I have a provocative question for you: Have you ever considered that your basic assumptions about leadership may be contributing to your struggles?
Let’s examine some current leadership models and their limitations, and then propose a model that more effectively addresses the common problems confronting today’s leader.
CURRENT LEADERSHIP MODELS
Our culture has no shortage of leadership theories and models. There is charismatic leadership, situational leadership, and transformational leadership to name only a few. Each theory has its own focus as to what makes for an effective leader, whether it be the sheer appeal of one’s personality, the context in which leadership occurs, or the needs of the organization. In effect, they all attempt to answer the question: What leadership style must a leader adopt in order to maximize his or her effectiveness with followers? However, leadership style is really not the most fundamental issue to consider. Effective leadership has more to do with one’s intentions or motives for leading. Put succinctly, the question is: Whose interests are you ultimately serving as a leader? How you answer this question determines not only your effectiveness as a leader but also the success of your organization.
THREE TYPES OF LEADERSHIP:
If your honest answer to the above question is: “I’m really serving my own interests,” then you’ve likely adopted our culture’s prevalent value system in which power, status, and/or wealth are the primary motivators driving one’s leadership.
A leader who embraces this model of leadership is known as the autocratic leader (OLAGroup.com). This type of leader uses power to coerce followers into complying with his or her own needs. In effect, the autocratic leader is a dictator who treats followers as servants. Autocratic leaders de-value and even abuse their followers which results in devastating consequences for the organization such as loss of trust, low morale, decreased productivity, suspiciousness, and fear.
We’ve all heard stories of leaders who abuse their power and whose organizations suffer tremendous hardship as a result. Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Anderson are just three examples of blatant abuses of power. Autocratic-led organizations usually experience high turnover rates because workers do not feel valued or appreciated for their efforts, and they eventually burn out and leave.
There is another type of leadership which is less toxic but more common in today’s organizations. According to extensive research conducted by Dr. Jim Laub, Professor of Leadership Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, paternalistic leaders are those who view themselves as parents and their followers as children. They tend to place the needs of the organization above the needs of their employees.
Paternalistic leaders can be either nurturing or critical but what they share in common is their belief that followers are not truly adult partners in the leader-follower relationship. This type of relationship results in mere compliance rather than true internal motivation. Although willing to delegate responsibility for some tasks, paternalistic leaders retain the right to make the most important decisions for the organization. Laub’s research (OLAGroup.com) has revealed that most of today’s organizations are paternalistic in their leadership practices.
The third type of leadership is known as servant leadership. The term, initially coined by Robert Greenleaf, refers to placing the legitimate needs of followers above one’s own self-interest. Servant leaders treat their followers as adults and are willing to collaborate, share their power, and commit themselves to others’ growth and development. They are also willing to grant decision-making authority to followers in order to foster a deep sense of commitment and investment in the organization. Furthermore, servant leaders value and seek to foster a strong sense of community among all stakeholders within the organization.
Character development is also a priority for servant leaders as they seek to display honesty, integrity, humility, authenticity, and accountability in their personal and work relationships. They are willing to take risks to stand by their convictions and muster the needed courage to “do the right thing.”
WHY SERVANT LEADERSHIP?
You may be wondering at this point how the servant leadership model is relevant to your struggles and challenges as a leader. You may be asking such questions as:
• “If I become a servant leader, how will that reduce my burden?”
• “How will servant leadership increase the morale, productivity, and commitment of my employees?”
• “How can servant leadership really work in an extremely competitive and demanding business environment which focuses on short-term results?”
These are valid questions and concerns which need to be addressed if you are to move forward in your decision to become a servant leader.
We have already discussed some of the issues which contribute to a leader’s burden at the outset of this paper, but there is another one that is especially burdensome – making decisions. Although they may be accountable to a board of directors, organizational leaders are the ones who typically make the major decisions which impact the well-being and performance of their employees and staff. Even if the leader truly believes that his or her decisions are what’s best for the organization, there often arises the challenge of achieving buy-in from the employees. Most leaders would agree that buy-in is critical if the organization is to achieve results and successfully implement its vision. This begs the question: “What is the best way to enlist others’ buy-in and foster a strong commitment to the vision?
There is a common principle that operates in those organizations who are effective in achieving outstanding performance over the long-term. Simply stated, people are more committed to that which they’ve had a voice in creating. To test this principle, reflect on those experiences in your own life when you’ve demonstrated the most commitment. It is very likely they were ones which flowed from your own passion and initiative rather than simply because someone told you to comply with their requests or demands. When leaders value and elicit their employees’ input, and then partner with them to create a shared purpose and vision, they harness the vast potential which exists among their people and unleash incredible amounts of motivation, passion, and commitment which cannot be generated merely by providing external incentives or simply telling them to “just do it.”
Servant leaders recognize the value of sharing decision-making authority with front-line employees if their organizations are to truly excel. However, you may ask: “How can I be sure that the employee will make the best decision for the organization and not just pursue his or her own agenda?” Very good question! By virtue of being human, we all have a tendency to promote our own self-serving interests. However, most people also yearn to be part of something that transcends their individual efforts and will gladly commit themselves to a vision that is aligned with their own values, passions, and interests. In effect, being committed to a shared vision can greatly override this self-serving tendency and thus lead to decisions that serve the organization rather than one’s own agenda. On the other hand, lack of a shared vision often leads to competing interests, political maneuverings, and lower performance among employees.
A final objection to servant leadership involves its practicality. In a business climate where beating the competition and short-term results are the primary focus, how can servant leadership really be effective? In order to answer this question, there is an underlying assumption about servant leadership which needs to be addressed. There is often the misconception that servant leaders are too soft, too lenient, and just want to make their employees feel good about themselves. This could not be further from the truth! In fact, servant leaders set the performance bar high, expecting and requiring their employees to excel in their achievement of organizational goals. The difference is in the methods servant leaders employ to attain organizational success. Rather than adopting a “push or pull” attitude in an effort to motivate employees, servant leaders seek to encourage, inspire, and develop their employees in the service of a shared vision thus creating a win-win outcome for everyone. While the carrot-and-stick approach used by autocratic and paternalistic leaders may be effective in the short-term, it requires constant monitoring and oversight to produce results. However, even then the results are not as effective due to the lack of internal motivation and commitment by employees.
Lest there be any doubt that servant leaders can be effective in a heavily competitive business climate, those organizations who embrace and implement servant leadership are some of the most successful. To cite just some examples, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Toro, The Container Store, Men’s Wearhouse, Nordstroms, the Ritz Carlton, and TD Industries continually rank toward the top in their respective industries.
Servant leadership is not a passing fad, a “touchy-feely” approach to leadership, or merely another leadership style to be used among several options, but is a dynamic, powerful, and effective leadership model that is fast becoming the preferred choice for those leaders who truly seek to propel their organizations to world-class levels of success in the 21st. century.
We now turn to the challenges involved in becoming a servant leader.
CHALLENGES OF BECOMING A SERVANT LEADER
There is no question that the primary challenge for many who are interested in becoming a servant leader is the willingness to surrender his or her power and need to control others. Suggesting that one give up power can appear very unsettling to some and even foolhardy to others. However, the paradox is that surrendering one’s power over others actually fosters greater personal power because you gain greater influence and respect through empowering them. When your employees perceive you as sincerely willing to listen to their input, encouraging them to succeed, and caring about their well-being and development, they trust you and become very committed to following you. In effect, you gain tremendous credibility which is the foundation of any genuine leadership.
Notice that the words “sincerely” and “genuine” are used in the above discussion. It needs to be emphasized that the decision to become a servant leader has to originate from an inner desire to truly serve others, rather than any manipulation or ploy to motivate them to higher levels of performance. If you pursue the latter, your employees will eventually realize that your motives are not sincere and, as a result, their morale, commitment, and performance will wane, and even more tragically, your credibility as a leader will drastically suffer.
This need for sincerity in one’s motives points to the broader issue of character, an indispensable attribute of servant leaders. Although far from perfect, servant leaders seek to grow in their personal character, embracing and practicing greater levels of humility, honesty, integrity, caring, authenticity, and accountability. Moreover, their ability to live out these qualities on a consistent basis will have a profoundly positive impact on the organizational culture as employees become committed to a set of shared values which then provides a strong foundation for organizational success.
It’s now time to get more personal and practical in terms of assessing your leadership effectiveness. Are you ready?
ASSESSING LEADERSHIP EFFECTIVENESS
The most logical and easiest place to start in determining your current level of leadership effectiveness is to take our FREE leadership self-assessment. This 18-item assessment will give you some baseline data on how you rank on 6 key leadership dimensions as extensively researched by Laub (1998). These dimensions are:
• Providing leadership
• Sharing leadership
• Valuing people
• Developing people
• Displaying authenticity
• Building community
You are strongly encouraged to be brutally honest with yourself in your responses. After taking the self-assessment, add up your total score and enter it in the designated location. This score will reflect your leadership effectiveness within a certain range (very effective, moderately effective, or very ineffective), and will indicate to what degree you are currently practicing servant leadership principles.
Regardless of your score, it is very important to keep in mind that this score represents your own self-perception and is not necessarily indicative of how others view your leadership effectiveness. We each have our own individual blind spots, areas in which we possess little or no self-awareness due to our need to present ourselves in a favorable light and defend against unwelcomed personal truths. Therefore, in order to correct for this self-bias it is very beneficial to gather feedback from other sources who know us well in order to provide a more comprehensive and objective assessment of our leadership strengths and weaknesses.
In order to provide this more comprehensive picture, we offer the OLA 360, which is a 57-item online questionnaire developed by Dr. Jim Laub, founder of the OLA Group (OLAGroup.com). This instrument involves eliciting feedback from peers, direct reports, and supervisors on the previously mentioned 6 dimensions of effective leadership. It also assesses the extent to which the person is facilitating the development of: (1) a healthy organization; (2) a learning organization; and (3) a growing organization. The data generated from the OLA 360 can then serve as a springboard for targeting specific areas needing improvement in these dimensions.
How To Use the Results from the OLA 360
The targeting of specific areas for improvement leads to the development of what Laub (1998) calls an individual learning plan (ILP) which defines the process and time frames for measuring progress. This process is comprised of three separate but related components:
• On-the-job experiences
The training can be flexible and geared toward the leader’s learning needs and style, including workshops, CDs, and webinars which target specific principles of servant leadership.
The second component is on-the-job experiences. If the training is to be effective, it needs to be implemented on the job so that new learning can be integrated into real life experiences. In this regard, these on-the-job experiences need to be sufficiently challenging to afford you the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, and begin developing new practices and habits that will foster progress as a servant leader.
The third, and very critical component, of the ILP is coaching. Because change can be very difficult and challenging, you need a leadership coach who can support, encourage, and challenge you during the change process. Moreover, coaching provides the necessary accountability which provides that extra push and motivation to sustain your momentum when the going gets tough.
In order to monitor the progress of the ILP, it is highly recommended that the OLA 360 be re-administered after a 6- to 9-month period of time. This second administration will provide you with an assessment of your improvement and determine what needs to be done as you move forward in your servant leadership journey. The option of continued coaching may also be considered in order to consolidate the gains which you’ve made so far.
ASSESSING ORGANIZATIONAL HEALTH
As you’re experiencing progress in your own personal effort to become a servant leader, it is very likely that you will see the need to expand this change to your entire organization. However, there are obstacles! As we all know, change on a massive scale can be very daunting. Overcoming resistance to change is challenging since organizational cultures can become very entrenched and seemingly intractable. People often complain about the status quo, but then struggle with changing because it requires them to move outside their comfort zones. However, if top leadership takes the lead by confronting the cost of not changing in terms of continued turnover, stagnant productivity, low morale, or even total collapse, then the pain of maintaining the status quo can become a strong incentive for overcoming the complacency of doing nothing. If you are truly committed to fostering a servant-minded organization which seeks to develop the potential of all its members, then the undertaking is definitely worth the effort.
The assessment process previously outlined can also be extended to the entire organization. Instead of using the OLA 360 to assess the individual’s leadership effectiveness, the organizational version known as the OLA (OLAGroup.com) can be administered to every member of the total organization. In this case, every level of the organization – top leadership, middle management, and the employees – takes this 66-item online instrument to gather feedback about the organization’s current level of organizational health and leadership effectiveness.
Data from the OLA will invariably yield discrepancies between the perceptions provided by front line staff and those provided by top leadership and middle management. In other words, there will be gaps since everyone does not perceive the organization in the same way. As with the OLA 360, the data gathered from the OLA can then be utilized to target those areas of the six critical dimensions of organizational health needing improvement within the entire organization. Through customized training modules, on-the-job experiences, team building and other interventions, as well as individual and/or group coaching, these targeted areas can then be addressed and improved in order to move the organization further along in its quest of becoming an optimally healthy organization. It is recommended that the OLA be re-administered after 9 to 12 months in order to assess progress and determine which gaps still need to be closed in the organization’s movement toward a servant-oriented culture.
Although the process of transforming an entire organizational culture can be quite time consuming and require a great deal of perseverance and commitment, the potential outcomes will be staggering in terms of the impact on employee motivation and performance, customer service and satisfaction, as well as the bottom line.
Laub, J. (1998). http://www.OLAGroup.com.
What Success Looks Like is a leadership and organizational coaching and consulting firm that helps small- to medium-sized businesses achieve greater levels of success through improving leadership effectiveness and organizational health We offer webinars and workshops on servant leadership, individual and group coaching, team building, large group interventions, strategic planning and visioning,
We invite you to take our FREE leadership self-assessment on our website at [http://www.whatsuccesslookslike.com] to begin a journey of transformation and excellence.
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