Effective Leadership and Management – Why the Servant-Oriented Type Works
Over a year ago, I interviewed at an organization in the healthcare industry. The female interviewer, an HR manager within the company, asked me what type of leadership style I closely identified with. Familiar with various styles of leadership and behavior, I defined myself as a servant-leader. Having been a skilled-worker for the bulk of my career, I knew firsthand, the challenges of working in the trenches under the direction of arrogant and sometimes, incompetent managers. Their authoritative, micro-managing behavior removed autonomy from employees’ work, and made the work culture increasingly oppressive. The managers drained employees of their optimism and enthusiasm to perform various job responsibilities.
It was even worse, working under managers whose knowledgebase and skill set were insufficient to adequately fulfill their own responsibilities. Combine these deficiencies with narcissistic personality traits, and subordinates were faced with a real problem. Unfortunately, micromanagers can’t help but to loom over the shoulders of their employees, because they don’t know how to lead effectively. Micromanagement essentially, creates an illusion that a manager is inundated by the demands of the management role. At the end of the day, micromanagers were able to report to their superiors that they had to supervise “so-called problematic and deficient” employees.
I am constantly amazed at the sense of self-importance that some leaders exude. It is as if they have been granted access to a wealth of knowledge, which is denied to those outside their status rank. They possess the greatest insight with regards to employee welfare and what’s best for business, and yet, are completely oblivious to problems on the frontline. Unreceptive to employee feedback, quick to strike down suggestions, and unwilling to internalize the plight of their workers because they are managers after all; the description however, evidences poor leadership in a nutshell.
When I described myself to the HR manager, I asserted myself as a servant-leader and provided justification.
Servant-Leadership as I explained is an employee-focused approach to leadership and management. I have trained and developed others for the purpose of increasing their potential to achieve. And while I felt the process to be self-fulfilling, I was more satisfied to see those that I helped make significant improvements in job performance. I further stated that if leadership desired to obtain the most from their employees, then it was necessary to demonstrate support. Employees who perceive managers as invested in their interests are more likely to be committed to their work. And if leaders supported their subordinates, the employees in turn, will support their leaders. If the contrary, employees will only be as committed as job roles require. Oftentimes, when job demands become extremely stressful in conjunction with limited possibilities for advancement, employees will ultimately voluntarily resign. I topped my response by expressing that I sought to treat others as I liked to be treated, which in my opinion, was an aspect of servant leadership. The HR manager moved onto the next question without commentary. Based upon her silence, I think the sound of a needle being dropped in a haystack might have made more noise. I wasn’t extended a job offer, and I wondered whether she disliked my particular response.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of factors in action in the leader-follower exchange. Trust, communication and support are top elements within these interactions. If an employee understands his or her job responsibilities and the knowledge exemplifies through their performance, then close-supervision is unwarranted. Coaching and development become critical issues when there are employees who continuously fail to meet established performance standards. In these instances, rather than micromanage, identify the knowledge and skill deficiencies and implement logical developmental plans to bridge gaps in performance. A manager who lacks the ability to develop staff is one who will encounter challenges in this area. Healthy communication is by bidirectional – involving the free flow of information and ideas exchanged between leader and employee. When dialogue is open, both parties are inclined to “hear” each other’s perspectives, values and interests. Finally, support has the capacity to motivate employees to perform at higher levels. Leadership support can offset the monotony that typically accompanies job roles in bureaucratic work environments.
A year later, I encountered the Scripture where Jesus stated to the twelve disciples: “….If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35; New King James Version). Allow me to explain why the Scripture remains relevant today. Despite being the Son of God, Jesus served the people and his disciples while He lived on earth. His status as a deity did not overshadow the needs of those that believed and followed Him. Similarly, servant leadership requires a leader to step down from his or her perch of authority, identify and absorb the needs of their followers. These needs should then be articulated to upper-managers along with proposals to address and resolve them. One of a servant-leader’s main objectives is to ensure that his or her followers have at their disposal, every resource to be successful. Servant-Leaders are also transparent, inspiring and encouraging. Transparency is an essential ingredient of fostering trust between people. Trust is established through the fulfillment of promise. Therefore, when a leader’s intentions are clear and align with subsequent actions, greater is the likelihood that employees will be more trusting.