In our previous two posts, we discussed Robert K. Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership theoretical framework for leadership development. Greenleaf introduced the framework in 1970, advocating a leader’s primary motivation and role is fully realized through service to others.
In the last post, we reviewed the characteristic of listening as central to servant leadership. In this post, we discuss the characteristic of empathy.
Empathy is defined as: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Empathy can respond to positive and/or negative emotions. It communicates (often without words) one of the most powerful phrases in the English language—“I know.” So, what might that look like behaviorally for the Servant Leader?
- A Servant Leader realizes that each person is unique.
There is a temptation to sometimes think, “Why can’t this employee be like that one?” It is true that there are times when employees miss the mark related to various metrics used to define success. However, it is also true that sometimes employers see what they want to see, and as a result, overlook the unique contributions all employees bring to the team. An empathetic leader does not allow himself/herself to become infatuated with theoretical grandiosity while ignoring trench reality. Such a lack of balance proves disastrous long term. If you do not have the bandwidth for one-on-one empathy with everyone in your organization, then you must model empathy with your department heads and upper-level managers and equip them to do the same with their direct reports.
- A Servant Leader realizes that each person has strengths and weaknesses.
Forgetting that makes it so easy to create a culture that rewards arbitrary measures of success while simultaneously creating expectations chaos. An empathetic leader builds upon employees’ strengths, but at the same time, refuses to witness weakness and sit idly by. He or she cares enough about an employee who is struggling to say, “I notice production is down this quarter. Let’s talk about it and see if we can figure out where our bottlenecks are.” Do you see how such an empathetic approach can open the door for self-awareness, self-actualization, and self-fulfillment?
- A Servant Leader has genuine concern for others.
Genuine concern is a choice. Often, competing interests like profit, budget constraints, stakeholder complaints, workaholic syndrome, etc., make choosing genuine concern on a personal level a challenge. As organizations grow, it can be even more challenging to express genuine concern. With that said, pausing for sixty seconds on occasion, looking someone in the eye, and asking, “How are you?” then coupling empathy with listening stands a much greater change of enhancing employee engagement and enthusiasm than a non-empathetic, non-listening culture provides.
In our next post, we’ll discuss the servant leader as a healing influence.
Until then – Happy Training!
We make snap judgments. Sometimes, they are good snap judgments. Sometimes, not so good…
Doug Glanville is a retired Major League Ballplayer, now works for ESPN, and a homeowner. And, he is African American.
He was shoveling snow off his driveway when a police officer walked up. It is important to note that other folks were also shoveling their driveways. But the police officer walked up only to him, and basically challenged him for “shoveling while black.” Mr. Glanville kept his cool, but wrote quite an article about the incident in The Atlantic. Really, do yourself a favor and read it. It might help you understand why Black Americans feel like racism is still a thing…
It reminded me of a passage in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. He calls these snap judgments “blink” thin-slicing judgments. In the book, he tells about this remarkable car salesman, Bob Golomb from New Jersey. What made him so much better than others? His ability to never disqualify a customer by judging them because of the way they looked. From the book:
“He follows a very simple rule. He may make a million snap judgments about a customer’s needs and state of mind, but he tries never to judge anyone on the basis of his or her appearance. He assumes that everyone who walks in the door has the exact same chance of buying a car. “You cannot prejudge people in this business. Prejudging is the kiss of death. You have to give everyone your best shot. A green salesperson looks at a customer and says, ‘This person looks like he can’t afford a car,’ which is the worst thing you can do, because sometimes the most unlikely person is flush.”
And then Gladwell makes this observation:
“Most salespeople are prone to a classic Warren Harding error. They see someone, and somehow they let the first impression they have about that person’s appearance drown out every other piece of information they manage to gather in that first instant.”
It was foolish of that police officer to prejudge Mr. Glanville. His actions must have followed from a thought process that went like this: “No way that man should be in front of that house shoveling snow. He’s bound to be up to no good.”
And, it is foolish to disqualify a person so quickly—from a sale, from a job, from a neighborhood, from any circle of involvement—anywhere.
If we believe that everyone has an equal chance to prove his or her worth based on skills and capabilities and merit, then it is time to develop a much better ability to stop all our prejudging. We are probably all guilty of it to some extent. Such prejudging narrows our possibilities, and ends up hurting real people.
It’s time to overcome this tendency. It’s time to learn not to practice such prejudging.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
A key part of our mission at SGR is developing authentic leaders. You might say it’s one-third of the trifecta. We want to develop leaders who are innovative, collaborative, and…authentic. We believe that the most effective leaders in local government (and in any organization) have to be all of these things. Success in the 21st Century will require innovation, collaboration, and authenticity.
Of the three, you could make the argument that the most important one is authenticity. I say that because of three reasons:
- Our society’s hunger for relationship
- Our society’s growing skepticism, and
- Our society’s sophisticated ability to detect a fraudulent leader.
The sheer force of these three things combines to expel any tolerance we might have to truly follow a leader who doesn’t seem “real” to us. I want to say more about the first two of those reasons.
In the past, our society recognized authority to be in the seat of position. We respected someone as an authority because of the position he/she held. We respected him/her simply because of the title (supervisor, professor, crew leader, mayor, etc.) While that is still true to some degree, in many ways a huge shift is taking place.
Increasingly, our society tends to see authority, not in the seat of position, but in the seat of relationship. That’s why in the book, Managing the Millennials, the authors found that effective leaders relied upon “relational authority” not “positional authority.” They built relationships with followers. Those the book described as “ineffective leaders” relied upon positional authority. (And by the way, it’s not just true for managing Millennials. It’s true for managing in the new Millennium period.) The bottom line: people are more likely to see you as an authentic leader if they feel like they know you…the real you, and that the real you is congruent with the “public” you.
On top of our society’s hunger for relationship, we are decidedly skeptical about leaders. We have seen so many leaders who turned out to be self-serving and insincere that it has scarred us. When you believe in someone and that person disappoints you, it not only hurts, but it causes you to doubt the next person…and the next one…and so on. All leaders function in a somewhat “skeptical culture” today.
Perhaps it’s always been true that leaders have to earn trust, but I believe that as a whole, the workforce is more and more slanted toward skepticism. The violation of public and personal trust has given rise to a rather staunch skepticism about leaders in general. From the beginning, we doubt that you are authentic, so you must truly prove that you are.
How do you “prove” that you are an authentic leader in that kind of environment?
Anybody who knows anything about working out will tell you there’s one important thing you must do before and after your workout—stretch. And if you decide to skip that step, you could end up pulling a muscle.
In other words, your muscle will stretch whether or not you want it to; it’s up to you whether you prepare for it to do so.
If you tried applying for a job lately, chances are you’ll see this phrase: “must be flexible”. Flexibility seems to be the buzzword no matter what field you’re in.
You have to be flexible with your time and skills—whether it means working outside of your usual “8 a.m. to 5 p.m.” timeslot, or doing something that wasn’t in your primary job description.
Human Resources Departments nationwide are also showing flexibility towards workers by allowing them to structure work hours around their personal life, permitting more employees to work remotely, and approving personnel to briefly peruse through their personal social media accounts during work hours.
That’s the world we live in now. Gone are the days when you could say, “I’ve been doing it like this for 10 years!” You must stay fluid because the way things are accomplished can change at the drop of a dime.
You can either be flexible and stay ahead of the curve (“stretch”), or allow yourself to stay rigid and suffer the consequences that happen when you don’t prepare yourself accordingly (“pull a muscle”).
I suggest you find ways in which you can be more flexible in your current position, if you haven’t done so already, because those who don’t are usually phased out of their jobs by those who did.
My oldest son, Zac, learned to ride a bike when he was really young. We lived in a small town with wide streets, and I still remember sitting on the curb by the mailbox with a video camera on my shoulder filming his wobbly turns, commenting proudly to my wife how amazing it was that he could ride a bike even though he was only 4 months old! (Well, maybe he wasn’t THAT young, but he was young!)
As he turned his bike to pedal toward us, he came right at the mailbox, and by default, right at us. My wife cautioned him, “Don’t hit the mailbox.” He kept coming. “Don’t hit the mailbox!” No course change. In fact, the more she said it, the more he seemed to head towards it. His radar was locked in. As you probably guessed, he hit the mailbox, and we had to scramble to avoid getting hit also.
Both the mailbox and his bruised shins survived, and along with it, a lesson I’ve never forgotten about the power of focus. We tend to accomplish the things—and maybe only the things—that we focus on. So why is it so hard sometimes to focus at work? I’ve found that using the word FOCUS as an acrostic can help me “lock in” on those times when it feels counterintuitive to do just that.
- Fears – Humans are emotional creatures. I think that many times the reason we can’t focus on something is that we have fears that have invaded our space, and we have to address them. If you can’t focus, start by asking yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Chances are you’ll find that something, real or irrational, is gnawing at you.
- Outcomes – Just like Zac seemed destined to hit the mailbox once his eyes got focused on it, I think it helps us to think about the outcomes we want. I believe in the adage, “Begin with the end in mind,” and I try to work backwards from there. It helps me to imagine myself having already accomplished those outcomes.
- Clear – Clear your schedule. Clear your desk. Clear your mind. Clear out your office. Clear whatever clutter is fogging the issue. Distractions are the obvious enemies of focus, and you will never really focus as long as those things are hanging around. Most of us have multiple demands upon us, so we rarely have unlimited time to focus on one thing; but we do have some time, and we’ll be more productive if we give ourselves completely to one thing at a time.
- Understand – Albert Einstein said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” If you are having a hard time focusing, the roadblock could be that you intuitively know you don’t fully understand the situation. Focus on THAT first!
- Start – If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. I once worked with a leader who said for years, “I need to get back to focusing on what I’m really supposed to be doing.” He never really did, either. You can learn a lot from your kids, and one of those lessons I’ll never forget is that you naturally move toward the thing upon which you are focused, so figure out what that should be, and by all means, get started now!
Recently, I discovered a “servant leader” theoretical framework that has been around for many years, but is new to me. It is called “servant leadership.” Robert K. Greenleaf introduced the framework in 1970, primarily advocating a leader’s primary motivation and role is fully realized through service to others.
The framework is built upon the Ten Principles of Servant Leadership. We will focus on those principles via future blog posts in this series. It is important to note that the principles are in no particular order. All are important, and all are necessary to be an effective servant leader. In this post, we focus on the principle of listening.
Servant Leaders do not just hear you. They listen to you. They understand that “listen” is an action verb, and intentionally focus on your thoughts, your heart, your ideas, joy, pain, victories, defeats, etc. Words like “receptive” and phrases like “paying close attention” characterize the listening servant leader.
Since the servant leader exhibits other characteristics such as empathy, healing relationships, awareness, etc., he or she may simply listen without saying much of anything. By the way, sometimes people just like to be heard. By immediately going into problem-solving mode, you may think you are helping, but you may actually hinder employee progress. That is not to say you should never go into problem-solving mode, but it is wise to sometimes just listen for a while, then respond once you have the complete picture.
Listening is a challenge especially in fast-paced environments, but genuine servant leaders know that an occasional five minutes of deep-level listening may save months of looking for an employee to fill a vacant position. Or worse, an employee may show up, while being emotionally and mentally checked out. Listening—really listening—is one of the key characteristics that keeps that from happening.
Listening is a skill. It is something we get better at the more we practice. So… practice! Sit down with an employee and ask a few simple questions:
- How are things going?
- Are there any obstacles you are facing that we can help you with?
- Do you have everything you need to get your work done?
- Do you feel overwhelmed or is your workload manageable
When employees respond, listen. Really listen. Take action as appropriate and get ready to see productivity increase. After all, if you don’t feel like anyone is listening, then how can you feel valued? The “listened to” employee knows he or she is worth his or her manager’s time. And for many people, nothing is more incentivizing than simply knowing they matter.
We will explore the principle of empathy in our next post.
Until then – Happy Training!
If you really want to pay better attention to what is going on in your team, stop running your own virtual meetings. It’s almost impossible to run a meeting, manage an agenda, present ideas, and also pay attention to group dynamics.
- If you create the agenda, you have a vested interest in pushing it through and will probably miss meaningful clues about others’ agendas and goals—which may be as important as yours.
- If you are working to summarize key points and check understanding so the team can move on, it’s tough to listen openly to ideas and perspectives that don’t fit nicely into your plan.
- When you facilitate every meeting, it may communicate to attendees that they can be passive and participate only on occasion, when needed.
- If you do most of the talking, it’s easy to miss subtle clues like vocal tone, hesitation when speaking, or careful choice of words. This deeper listening takes great inner silence and focus.
Instead of running your own meetings, focus on being a great process observer.
This helps you anticipate problems and concerns in the team, react early and thoughtfully to conflicts and challenges, as well as take advantage of opportunities to build team spirit.
Certainly you have agenda items to add, but try delegating this responsibility to your team members. Let them set the agenda and facilitate the meeting. This way:
- You learn what is important to your team. Although their agenda may not align with yours, theirs probably includes items you hadn’t considered.
- When team members create and manage your team meeting, you are more likely to get new ideas and perspectives.
- When team members alternate meeting leadership, it develops their skills and increases their commitment to the team and its work.
Most importantly, when you allow others to facilitate your team meetings, you can lean back to observe what is really going on instead of having to constantly lean forward to push the agenda.
Delegate the facilitation of your next team meeting. You’ll be surprised at what you see and hear when you focus your attention on the dynamics of building a healthy team.
“There is a slow march toward improving today’s systems, by 5 or 10 percent a year. Meanwhile, many innovative companies, scientists, and engineers are exploring novel approaches. Many of them may not work. But there is a reasonable chance that a couple may work—and really work, to double or triple energy density and lower cost. If you are a battery company and your cost per unit of storage doesn’t drop by a factor of two in the next five years, you are going to be out of business.” — Steven Chu (as told to James Fallows)
In other words, if you are in the battery business, no matter how good your battery is today, it is not good enough for tomorrow, and certainly not for the day after tomorrow. Someone will come out with a battery that is dropping in cost in a hurry, and if you are in the battery business, and it is not your company that does that, then your company will be… out of business.
So, I remembered the opening chapter of the Thomas Friedman book, The World is Flat. That chapter, “While I was Sleeping,” was where Mr. Friedman described how while we were all “distracted” by the attacks of 9/11, and the goings on in Baghdad, the world kept right on changing. From the book:
“I realized something really important had happened while I was fixated on the olive groves of Kabul and Baghdad. Globalization had gone to a whole new level.”
In other words, no matter how much we focus on terrorism, or Crimea and Ukraine, in the world of business and change and innovation, the pace of change is ongoing—even accelerating.
I remember when the iPhone 5 came out. iPhone users were so unhappy. Apple had changed the size of the charging cable port. It was smaller. “Why did Apple do that?” we all screamed, as we had to buy a new car charger to go along with the cost of the new iPhone. The answer: it has to be smaller because the “old, clunky, too-big” charger was taking up too much room inside the phone. Apple is in the “let’s keep making products that are bigger, more powerful, faster, and smaller” business. The less room the charging port takes up, the more room for other, help-things-be-stronger, faster technology to fit inside. And every time that their next new phone hits the market, there are already teams hard at work to make the next round of innovative, for-the-better versions. Always.
This is happening everywhere, all the time.
In The Second Machine Age, we read that progress seems almost non-existent until, all at once, the change is upon us. And I’m beginning to read hints that some big changes—changes we have been waiting for—are just about upon us. Solar power is now close to fulfilling its promise. The Tesla (and its work on batteries) is about to be truly breathtaking. The list can go on and on…
Here’s your lesson: no matter how good your product or service is, it has to be better tomorrow than it is today… and soon! Not just a little bit better, but big-leaps-forward better.
Because while we are sleeping, someone somewhere is on the verge of putting you out of business.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Successful leaders turn problems into opportunities. Your bad boss is an opportunity to develop ten essential leadership qualities.
Think of a bad boss as a catalyst that propels your leadership journey.
Leadership lessons from a bad boss:
Bad bosses bring out arrogance. You deserve better. But, every leader faces the crucible of unjust treatment. On the other side of mistreatment is humility or arrogance. Those who suffer well are humbled. Those who suffer poorly are hardened.
The way you treat others is about you not them. Weak leaders blame their poor behaviors on others. Forgiveness says, I’m not going to treat you with your offenses in mind.
Leaders who can’t adapt are tyrants. Adapting to the strengths and weaknesses of those around you takes you further than pressuring everyone to be like you.
Ungratefulness makes you ugly. Find and focus on points of gratitude. I’m not saying to be grateful for being yelled at.
The path to exceptional is paved with tough conversations. Few conversations are tougher than those with bad bosses. Keep humility, forgiveness, adaptability, and gratitude as your companions during tension.
Your bad boss may be reason enough to leave your organization. But, if you gut it out, resiliency is strengthened. Everything worth doing requires resilience.
Let a bad boss motivate you to build strong relationships within and outside your organization. You may need them.
Bad bosses are hard to listen to. If you can listen well when your boss sucks, you’re becoming a great listener.
- Perspective taking.
Learn to see the world from their perspective.
Calmness reflects strength.
Every leadership quality or behavior I listed is profoundly connected to humility. Let your bad boss propel you toward humility.
What leadership lessons are learned while serving bad bosses?
Over the past eight years, I have taught hundreds of local government live classes and created dozens of live and online courses. If you look at the scope of my work, you will notice a common thread that runs throughout: “servant” is the most powerful word in the phrase “public servant.”
I hammered that theme while I served as a county commissioner, and I continue to promote the concept when I have an opportunity to influence public servants whether elected, appointed, hired or volunteered.
Recently, I discovered a “servant leader” theoretical framework that has been around for many years, but is new to me. It is called, “Servant Leadership.” Robert K. Greenleaf introduced the framework in 1970, primarily advocating a leader’s primary motivation and role is fully realized through service to others.
The scope of Greenleaf’s work is perhaps summed up in this one statement: “The great leader is seen as a servant first.”
In many ways, servant leaders swim upstream culturally. “Me-ism” permeates numerous industries and local government is not immune from its influence. However, if Greenleaf was right, and motivation and self-actualization come through serving others, then perhaps a little swimming upstream not only benefits the swimmer but also possibly changes the very mission of an organization.
Actually, Greenleaf noted that organizations and individuals could, through servant leadership, change the world. In his second major essay, The Institution as Servant, he noted:
“This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.” (source)
Words like “caring” and “just” and “loving” seemingly find rare utterance in boardrooms and council chambers across the nation these days.
Perhaps it is time we not only re-introduce such words into our vocabularies, but also purposefully identify ways to live out these words as a means of rediscovering motivation and self-actualization as public servants.
More on this in my next post.
Until then – Happy Training!