“It’s All About You” (Seriously?)

Author: Joy Kosta, HCS, SWP | Source: HCI | Published: November 2, 2011

What went through your mind when you read this blog title? Right off- just to clarify- this blog isn’t about you. According to subscribers of a servant leadership style, “It’s All About You” refers to their focus on the people they lead, customers and suppliers. Dr. Ed Hess from the University of Virginia Darden Business School has studied high performing public companies, where he observes that a servant leadership style characterizes Best Buy, UPS, Ritz Carlton, Whole Foods, Starbucks, and Southwest Airlines, whose leaders are both humble and passionate about the details of their business. Instead of seeking leadership for pay, perks, or power, Hess contrasts, “Servant leaders do not think they are better than the people they lead…they believe that if you create and align the right values, purpose, culture, measurements, rewards, and leadership behavior, normal people can do extraordinary things” (a summary of Hess’s study is available in our Executive Library). 

We never forget being on a team led by a servant leader. And for those of you who aspire to be leaders, this is one sure way to get there; win first through influence and teamwork rather than authority. For those of you who may have forgotten the power of servant leadership, it’s never too late to make a small but significant change. Robert Greenleaf, author of Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness suggests we begin by demonstrating listening. Ask yourself, how much air time do I give others in meetings? This is a simple change that others will notice.

The Corporate Executive Board recently announced the number one critical HR priority for this year is improving senior leader capabilities at managing the workforce. Conversations with Executive Members on developing high potentials raises this question--how does leadership development get leaders off-track (from the servant leadership style)? Traditionally leaders get recognized for being ahead of the pack in their thinking and for working independently. Are we recognizing people for some of the wrong things, or for an incomplete list of behaviors and characteristics in their development and career path?

A hypothesis by Jane Waddell at Regent University suggests just the opposite of what we might guess—we might think that being an extrovert is intrinsically part of servant leadership; when in fact Meyers Briggs (MBTI) assessments found servant leaders have a higher tendency to be introverted—they are OK with others being in the limelight. The logic to this is that extroverts’ egos like attention, whereas with introverts, leadership is not “all about them”-- in fact, Waddell found a correlation between moral love (ethics), altruism, humility, and trust within servant leaders.

Emotional intelligence competencies such as empathy, awareness of others and interpersonal skills are increasingly being measured to individualize effective leadership development; this helps deploy developing leaders in “the right seats on the bus” (metaphor attributable to Jim Collins), and match individuals’ EI strengths to the demands of the job. Great insights on developing leaders coming our way will be shared by GE Healthcare, Tuft’s Health Plan, Sara Lee, and Tiffany and Company at our upcoming Learning and Leadership Development conference - be with us in Boston or attend virtually.   

Do you practice 360 feedback? What methods do you employ to listen and develop servant leadership in yourself and in others? Drop me a line (I’m listening)…

photo courtesy of Paul Stevenson