Popularity breeds, in some circles, believability. What is a popular notion soon becomes the belief of the day.
It’s the age of movements
There are many popular concerns in the world today that define the conversation around what’s important — topics such as COVID-19, women’s rights, ‘black lives matter’, drug decriminalization, sexual misconduct, sexual orientation, climate change, the environment, indigenous rights, pipelines, and the charter of rights & freedoms tend to define some of the popular narrative in society in these times, and the priorities people turn their attention to.
In a relative sense, not much attention is given to the people who define the economic agenda of society — the leaders of our organizations whose quality of leadership defines how people live their lives in the other pluralistic society that engulfs them. Their daily environment is shaped by how they are treated; how they are motivated and how they are engaged in fulfilling the strategic agenda of their organization.
And when attention is paid to the topic of leadership it is typically dealt from an academic and theoretical perspective. Studies discovering relationships between leadership behaviours and employee performance are discussed and conclusions reached on the skills people should possess if they want to aspire to be an amazing leader.
Rarely are emotions targeted as the means to hook people to engage in a leadership conversation; certainly the same cannot be said about debates on the environment, oil pipelines and allegations of sexual misconduct. These topics are dripping with emotion — how people feel about something often dominates the position you take rather than the facts presented.
Leadership isn’t a ‘sexy’ topic
Certainly other social narratives get more emotional conversations going than leadership.
This is unfortunate. The practice of leadership is every bit as important as any other social narrative. People spend most of their life in a working context with a boss they coexist with.
And it is the boss’s skills, capabilities and attitudes that can impact the lives of individuals much more than any movement could.
But I’m not talking about the same-old traditional leadership practices borne out of a more theoretical view of the art; rather I’m referring to a new style of leadership that has grown up in the trenches where real people work and profound performance is achieved.
It’s a practical leadership approach grown from knowing what it takes to ignite the passion and emotion in people to achieve the organization’s goals and objectives.
The next generation of leader
Leadership by Serving Around — LBSA — is next-gen. It’s the imperative if people are to have meaningful and rewarding careers and if organizations are to stand apart from their competitors and achieve remarkable levels of performance.
Organizations exist to serve. Period. Leaders live to serve. Period. — Tom Peters, author of excellence
It’s a fashionable notion because it relates to the fundamental human needs of people to feel they have a compelling purpose and that they are needed and cared for.
And it’s different from its predecessor, MBWA — Management by Wandering Around — where managers wander through the workplace without a whole lot of focus, trying to ‘find out what’s going on’. MBWA is relatively undisciplined with the intent of discovering clues on team performance, observing the efficiency of business processes and trying to spot dysfunction that impedes productivity.
There’s nothing wrong with MBWA, but it doesn’t go far enough to create teams of passionate, turned-on people necessary to ensure organizations thrive and survive in today’s highly unpredictable and volatile world.
Here’s how LBSA works: Leaders purposefully go through the workplace with a strategic purpose, looking for serving moments or opportunities to help someone.
Managers ask: “What’s going on?”
Serving Leaders ask: “What can I do to help you?”
The leader’s agenda is to offer personal help, recognizing that if someone’s individual problems are solved, performance enhancement follows. If you take care of the person, performance takes care of itself.
Serving leaders are the icons of tomorrow. They earn followers through an undying display of caring for people and their well being — Roy, serving with purpose
This is what LBSA looks like:
Leaders ask; they don’t tell. They are not present to give a presentation on anything.
Their serving job is to listen to what people have to say about what’s going on in their world as opposed to directing them on what they have to do.
They know they don’t know; that the people in the organization are the experts, so they ask them. These leaders have conversations that have a minimal transmission element. Their communications style invites commentary, opinion and the truth on what needs to be changed.
The key questions they ask are: ‘How can I help?’; ‘What key changes should be made to enable you to do your job easier?’; ‘What do you think about…?’
They see themselves as instruments to make life easier and more productive for others. If this leader can remove roadblocks and barriers that prevent people from doing their job, they know results will skyrocket.
Apart from a one-on-one engagement — and appropriate physical distancing of course — with an employee, LBSA can be extremely effective with groups of people.
I tagged the process ‘Bear Pit Session’. I assembled a group of people in my organization and went through the ‘How can I help?’ process. I structured each audience to give me a good cross section of the functions in the organization that were pivotal to the success of its strategy and where execution was critical.
Each session guided me to where I could affect change and improve performance (and get to know the up-and-comers who had the potential to assume leadership positions in the future).
They take notes, lots of notes. This shows the leader believes what employees say is important — because it is — and that their words are taken seriously and they will be supported.
Standout leaders get a ton of writer’s cramp every time they go out of their office — Roy, cramped
They pay particular attention to people’s names and something interesting or special about them, which is often useful in follow up. Note taking shows that a leader cares about what people have to say and is one of the simplest and powerful ways to evoke emotion from the questionee.
They are prepared. They determine what and where the issues are and serve around according to what they learn. For example, they would visit the customer service operations if customer feedback suggests improvements are needed in that area; if sales needs a boost, they serve there.
Serving around isn’t a fluffy thing to do; it’s not about showing up spontaneously and chatting up employees to showcase the leader’s charisma and people skills. On the contrary, serving is a ‘hard act’ with a defined strategic purpose and specific expected outcomes. And to fulfil its prime purpose it requires meticulous planning. No homework = no results.
They fly solo when they serve around; they lose their entourage and groupies.
They explicitly don’t want any filters between what people say and what message they take away. The manager groupy crowd always has an agenda to protect themselves from their leaders and they try to do this by managing — controlling — the flow of information between the employees they have reporting to them and the boss.
To be effective, serving cannot have any filters. It must be a personal leadership act.
If you’re uncomfortable with flying solo and you feel you need backup, you shouldn’t lead — Roy, only one seat
They routinely allocate time on their calendars every week to serve around. They know that a serving moment cannot be seen from an office bubble. Serving is hardwired into their list of priorities.
The routinization of the task actually makes it more effective as time goes on.
The word gets out that Roy serves regularly by either one-on-one conversations or by bear pit sessions and people proactively prepare for the event when they get their opportunity to participate. Their input is clear and more focused and is easier to respond to to make any changes required.
Because their primary role is to question, they shy away from giving stump speeches, monologues or presentations. They share information when asked but would rather assume the role of absorbing information.
For most leaders, this is extremely difficult because of their ego. They find it difficult to resist the temptation to share their words of wisdom or pronounce something that they think is thoughtful and wise.
Serving leaders know to zip their mouths and open their other senses — Roy, zero sum
They give people time to tell their story; they interrupt only to clarify the points made to ensure that any action they take will have the right outcome.
They are humble. They don’t create a splash wherever they go. They are the antithesis of what most people view these days as a stereotypical leader.
They don’t need charisma to be effective; that veneer isn’t consistent with who they are. They leave their ego at the door.
People like the serving leader because they are like a ‘normal’ person rather than the stereotypical leader who for some reason is portrayed to be ‘above’ the common employee.
I’ve always considered humility to be a strategic attribute of an effective leader because it invokes trust, believability, engagement, and commitment from the people the leader touches.
Simplicity inspires humility. The serving leader understands that complexity often gets in the way of achieving superlative results. They wrote the book on dumbing stuff down for people.
They are practical in orientation. They’re unimpressed with theoretical concepts that can’t be implemented.
They are more receptive to ideas they believe are both consistent with the strategic intent of their organization and are likely to have strong support by people who would be asked to implement them.
Their ‘would they be emotionally all-in?’ filters dominate their decision-making on potential innovation and they test new ideas with the frontline and in their bear pit sessions.
They are not only ok with defects and flaws, they insist that people focus on making as many tries as possible rather than seeking the ‘perfect’ solution before taking action.
They encourage people to try as many imperfect solutions as they can, and preach that the more tries made the more likely that success will eventually be achieved.
Serving leadership addresses a compelling societal need — to create organizations with a human face where people can grow, prosper and be valued.
It’s not a cause or fad that will fade with limited media life. In fact it won’t attract the traditional and social media attention that other current narratives garner.
It is a sustaining force because of its universal — rather than special interest group — appeal.