Saturday, 30 November 2019

The Servant Leadership Misconception

Leadership has evolved over the past century, though many may dispute this fact.  The most effective style has moved from the ‘commander in chief’ model to one more generally referred to as the ‘servant leader’.

The reluctance of many to adopt this new model is rooted in a misconception as to what it means to be an authentic servant leader.  They have the mistaken belief that they must become servile and do the bidding of those who work for them.  For some reason they understand that the master / servant relationship has been flipped on its head and that the employee is now the master and the leader must acquiesce to their expectations and needs. 

With this type of understanding it is not surprising that many in positions of responsibility and leadership are unwilling to adopt the model.  Frankly I don’t blame them.

But here’s the rub.  They have a faulty conception of the meaning of servant leadership and thus they rebel against it. 

Servant leadership must be viewed as one being selfless not servile.  With this proper definition, the role becomes one of empowerment, not subservience. 

The servant leader sets aside personal ambitions of recognition or acknowledgement in favour of providing for those under their scope of responsibility.  When goals are accomplished, it is team effort and team recognition first.  Clearly the leader will ultimately be recognized as the catalyst for the success.  But the recognition is for the manner in which it was accomplished, that is, by the leader facilitating the group and providing the necessary tools, guidance and training to allow others to fulfill their potential.

When you properly understand the definition of servant leadership it is much easier to adopt and apply.  By looking out for the best interests of your team first, you are elevated.  It’s a matter of priorities.  If you look first to elevate yourself, you must put others down.  But when they raise you up because of your prior concern for them, the acknowledgement is that natural outcome of your sacrifice.

Today’s employees are better educated and generally better prepared to enter the workforce than any generation in the past.  Their expectations are in line with their abilities.  They will not suffer fools because their skills are so transferable and they understand that a career may entail many employers. 

To attract and retain the best of the best, leaders must be able to acknowledge and adapt to these realities.  The servant leadership model is the one which best accommodates these expectations.  Understand what it means and how to implement it and will you find success more often than not.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

A Foreigner's Perspective

As a Canadian I am nothing more than an interested and passive observer of the impeachment proceedings in the US congress.  But there is an interesting leadership dynamic that’s taking place, or will take place as the Senate takes over from the House in its’ deliberations.

Mr. Trump has a history of demanding loyalty from those in his employ or under his sphere of influence.  This expectation predates any involvement in the political scene.  It has been demonstrated in all of his personal and business dealings since the first $1 million gift that got him kick started in business.  It is a code by which he has operated and which he believes serves him well.

Those whom he judges as no longer displaying loyalty are routinely expelled to serve the fate deserving of a traitor.

What he fails to recognize is that it is not loyalty that he expects; but allegiance.  And as I have written previously, there is a fundamental difference.

Loyalty is a two way relationship.  One’s loyalty to another is reciprocated by loyalty in return.  It is based on a mutual respect and understanding of common goals, principles or viewpoints.

Allegiance is a one way relationship.  It is expressed in a master / servant relationship in which there is not mutual respect or understanding but rather an expectation of unquestioned service.

Throughout his career – personal, business or politics – Mr. Trump has always viewed his relationships in this manner. 

What happens if the investigative process uncovers evidence that suggests that he has, in fact, been guilty of misconduct that justifies impeachment?  

If that happens, those in his party in the Senate from whom he has demanded loyalty will demonstrate that they had only extended allegiance because it served their purposes to do so.  Knowing that Mr. Trump was never loyal to them, their allegiance will quickly shift to their own future and he will be seen wearing the emperor’s new clothes.

Politics is dirty, it is petty, and it self-serving.  Mr. Trump has known these truths all along and has not built relationships that withstand crises.

Ultimately, Senators will protect themselves at the expense of Mr. Trump.  There was never loyalty extended by them because there was never any extended to them. 

As one voice they will say ‘…the king is dead; long live the queen…’

Saturday, 9 November 2019

A tale of two cities

Sometimes you can tell a book its’ cover.  Consider these two incidents that occurred within a day of each other.

In Seattle, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg magnanimously offered to refuse his annual bonus.  Based on prior years this amounts to about $20 million.  Not a small amount but consider that under his watch the Boeing 737 program has ground to a complete halt and two Boeing 737 MAX crashes took over 340 lives in the past year.  The board will take his offer under advisement but this is the same board that has kept him on during this fiasco so don’t look for them to act on the offer. 

Hell, even if they do withhold it for a year, Muilenburg will somehow have to carry on with the $20 million he received last year.  I think it’s fair to say that he will manage to survive.

In Chicago, the very next day, Steve Easterbrook, CEO at McDonald’s, resigned at the request of the board because he violated a company policy about having a consensual intimate relationship with a direct or indirect subordinate.

Lest we have too much concern about Easterbrook’s future, he is leaving with almost $40 million of stock option and a generous severance package.

But finances aside, what do we learn about the culture at each company?

Boeing seems to conclude that the loss of 340 lives and a long term diminish of its reputation is not grounds for summary dismissal.  It is essentially saying to Muilenburg ‘…you got us into this mess, you get us out of it. Optics don’t matter; a questionable corporate culture does not matter; stockholders don’t matter.  It is the bottom line that rules.

McDonald’s though values its’ company image and its’ culture.  Despite a doubling of the stock price under Easterbrook’s guidance, the policies of the company must be upheld by everyone, without exception.

I have long held that authentic leadership must be ethically, morally and legally grounded.  If not, then all standards are only guidelines and are situational…let’s look at the circumstances before we hold anyone to account.

These two companies have a public persona that is vastly different.  When push comes to shove, which one will have your back?  Which one represents your values?  And why do many in Corporate America not understand the difference!