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05.24.18

The Journey to Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership

I
T'S NOT ABOUT YOU. That’s where servant leadership begins. Success is based on your influence in the marketplace and those you help. Or rather, it is significance over success. This is a very different mindset from a power-leadership model. And it takes time because we are predisposed to lead from a power mindset.

When Art Barter bought Datron World Communications in 2004, he was determined to create a servant leadership culture in his organization. In doing so the company went from $10 million in annual sales to $200 million today. He explains, “by following the principles of servant leadership, we were able as a committed and engaged team to create a growth mindset and far exceed our normal production with basically what we already had.”

In The Art of Servant Leadership II, Barter shares the journey from power-based leadership to servant leadership. Inside you will find the ups and downs, the trials and triumphs, and the rewards of making the journey. What worked and what didn’t.

Making a change from a power-based leadership style to a servant leadership style is not easy and must begin at the top. At the beginning there are trust issues. And quite frankly, it is a difficult approach to wrap your mind around. It’s unnatural and some otherwise great people will never make the transition. It’s an ongoing process—a cycle of education, understanding, applying, and reflecting.

Educate to Own
Leaders must educate to the point of ownership. It has to be ongoing and consistent. Barter began by preaching more or less but soon learned that if they were going to own it, they and to be part of the educational process. Based on the principles of servant leadership, he asked his team to define what servant leadership looked like to them and then said let’s do that. “Let them decide up front what that will look like; it allows them to start their transformation, because they own that definition.” Barter moved from educate-to-train to educate-to-own. It is important too, says Barter, that the leader’s voice is in the process so that everyone is speaking the same thing and that you meet people where they are.

Understand and Empower
When things get tough it’s easy for a leader to fall back on power. And when you do it takes humility to face the real issue. Barter said that he had to look at himself at times and ask, “’What did I do to generate that response?’ It took me a while to get to the point where I started looking inside first.” He adds, “They can’t put me on a pedestal and expect me to be perfect, because I’m going through a continual transformation right along with them.” As to empowering others, “there are times when the best thing you can do to help people transform is to stop teaching them and just encourage them, giving them space to work on their own transformations.” Not just listening but listening to understand, empowers people.

Apply
You can’t put an organization on hold to make the transformation to a servant leadership culture. You must be profitable and self-sustaining. But servant leadership stresses the means more than the results. It is a culture that makes it safe for failure. Encouraging others and one-on-one mentoring helps to send that message. Here are two key thoughts that caught my attention in this section:
Someone on your team isn’t performing well. Maybe this person is dealing with some personal issues, or perhaps is struggling with what he or she is being asked to do. What would happen if two other people on the team took that person aside and helped him or her get through those challenges, and stayed with the team member until the challenges were resolved? What would that look like in today’s workplace? In most work places, a person who starts falling falls alone because nobody wants to be part of it.

That’s the basic difference between the power model and the service model. The power model says, “If I do something, I want something in return.” But the servant leader says, “We’re here to help you. We’re willing to give you what you need. You can reward us if you feel like we served you appropriately.” It’s an investment, and most of the time we’ll see something out of it because people see that we conduct business differently.

Reflect
Self-reflection and team reflection are necessary in a servant leadership culture. At Datron the create what they call a “fascination-for-the-truth” environment. It begins by never killing the messenger. They also host monthly get-togethers, and quarterly off-sites. They invest money into developing the team by sending people to conferences, bringing in outside speakers, and encouraging reading.

Confrontations at Datron are meant to restore relationships and not to convince the other person that you’re right and they’re wrong. The real test of servant leadership is if those you are serving are growing.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:45 PM
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