Monday, August 13, 2012

Crisis In Leadership -- Is Servant Leadership The Answer?

When we look at the state of our economic climate, politics, and the decline in trust people around the world have for their leaders, it’s easy to see there needs to be a new direction and emphasis on the right kind of leadership. Why? Because, as the old saying goes, “If the results you are getting aren’t meeting your goals and expectations, it’s insane to keep doing the same old thing.”

Almost every night on TV, we see the despair people feel around the world because leadership isn’t working. In countries where leaders have used the power of the “big stick and control” leadership model to try and control their people, we see individuals willing to die in the streets to bring about change. In the United States, politicians are finding the old way of leading by creating new spending programs and trying to satisfy special interest groups and be all things to all people isn’t working either. People aren’t buying their speeches anymore, and the old way of spending our way to prosperity won’t work, because the piggybank is empty. The way our politicians have been spending money to make things better is like saying if you need to lose weight, the best way to accomplish that goal is to just keep eating more, and maybe it will work itself out someday.

Today, politicians are into protecting their own ideas and political parties by trying to eliminate real debate or new ideas and thoughts from getting through. Servant leadership is about working to eliminate conflict through good communication, listening to other people’s ideas, and being civil in the way we treat those with ideas we don’t agree with, so we can reach agreement for the good of the people we lead. In my sixty-three years, I have never seen a time in our country where we have so many leaders so out of touch with the people they are leading. It seems leaders today are more driven by their own selfishness, dreams, ideas, and agenda, leaving, “We the people,” wondering if it will ever get better. People are already talking about future generations, who will have to lower their expectations for the way life is going to be.

Leaders are forgetting that leadership is always about the people. That doesn’t mean people will always get what they want, because sometimes it will take a “new” medicine to heal what ails us. We found that out as children, when the medicine we took to heal us didn’t always taste good but made us feel better. We need leaders who really care about us, who will be honest, explain what needs to be done, and tell us the pain and the sacrifices we must go through and the actions needed to make things better. We need leaders who can develop a three-year strategy, instead of throwing abandon to the wind and coming up with a new program almost every day to satisfy special interests and try to give us false hope.

So, now that I’m off my high horse, let’s get back to business leaders and with what they are struggling. The business world has changed and continues to change rapidly. The old paradigms that many of us as leaders were used to are no longer working like they once did, which means leaders must find new ways to lead their people and companies. The power and obedience leadership model needs to be replaced with the caring, motivating, encouraging, and building relationships model. When people ask me why, my answer always is the same: “Which kind of leader would you rather be led by: one who demands, controls, and puts themselves first, or one who encourages, listens, and asks for your opinion, and is constantly working to build a relationship with you?” I think we all know the answer. Now, we need to convince leadership that is the path that needs to be taken.

Let’s take a little deeper look at the issues and struggles with which businesses and their leaders must deal.


  • Find new strategies to be competitive in a global economy.
  • Develop a consistent strategy that works during tough and uncertain times.
  • Deal with the tightening of credit by financial institutions.
  • Lead a very diverse workforce (ages, nationalities, languages, and skill levels).
  • Deal with the uncertainty of future government regulations and tax laws.
  • Find good people in spite of high unemployment rates (their belief).
  • Lead with very little in the way of leadership training.
  • Overcome the stress and frustrations brought on by working more with less and watching their business struggle and deal with both the joy and heartaches that comes with leadership.

  • Layoffs, less hours, terminations, reduced pay and benefits, and declining 401K plans.
  • How to work with leaders they are losing respect and trust in.
  • Being scared for their jobs and an uncertain future for them and their families.
  • Having to work longer than planned, because they cannot retire due to their financial situation.
  • Being unhappy with where they work and their perception of how they are treated by an uncaring leadership.

So, what we have are the leaders of a company and their workforce (their most important asset) all stressed and frustrated, and because of these struggles, a gap has developed between them that hurts how they work with each other and impacts the results of the business. When stress, frustration, and distrust develop in any relationship—whether a business, marriage, or with a best friend—things have a tendency to go downhill quickly.

How do we stop this spiral and get relationships back on track in our businesses and with our people? How can we get everyone to see through the everyday clutter that takes place in business and understand we truly need each other if our business is going to survive and prosper? What kind of leadership is needed to bring about the changes we desperately need? What is the best way for these two groups to understand they need to come together to create a competitive advantage that creates security for the workforce, leadership, and the business? Who will help them find that path and, more important, bring the encouragement, motivation, energy, and right motives to keep everyone focused and traveling on their journey together?

To Develop This Type Of Business Environment Requires Several Things

  • Businesses must learn to embrace the vision and principles that servant leaders bring to a business and the people who work there. They must ask themselves what is the best way of leading: carrying a big stick and pushing and pulling, or building true caring relationships with the people they lead?
  • Most businesses need to be taught what servant leadership is about and how it can make a difference. We have somehow convinced ourselves that business and our feelings in business and life should be different and separate, that what works in building relationships in life won’t work in a business setting. Leaders must realize that people are people and encouragement, caring, listening, relationships, and sense of community works everywhere.
  • Businesses need to establish servant leadership principles and philosophies as a goal for their leaders and then hold them accountable for becoming a servant leader. It cannot be the flavor of the week. It must become a way of life and be sustainable.
  • Only people with leadership ability and potential, who clearly understand the leadership expectations for them, should ever be put in leadership positions.
  • Businesses must establish the training (teaching), coaching, and mentoring process that helps develop servant leaders. They must remember it is a journey and not an event. The training process must be one that is sustained no matter what is happening in the business.
  • Leaders need to embrace servant leadership as something they aspire to become. It should be no different than accountants who desire to become CPAs or HR professionals who earn their SPHR credentials.


Men and women who bring their purpose, passion, and character, and when combined with their God-given skills and abilities for leadership, bring out the best in people, helping a business develop and implement a sustainable process for success.

They discovered that people come to work every day with their unique personalities, dreams, goals, skills, and hunger for achieving something bigger than themselves. What they need is the right style of leadership, communication, training, and guidance to help them reach their potential. People don’t come to work to fail, produce bad products and services, or have a bad day. It is a leader’s responsibility to lead by teaching, encouraging, and helping them discover and reach their potential.


The best strategy to achieve organizational goals and create competitive advantage is by developing an environment of caring, mutual trust, and respect between the leaders and the people by focusing their efforts and strategy on developing the full potential of all associates and the business, therefore creating a winning partnership.


  • Treating people as the most important asset in the company
  • Seeing people not as they are today but their potential
  • Realizing people are more important than tasks
  • Measuring their own success by the success of those they lead
  • Knowing leadership is about building relationships throughout the company
  • Impacting people’s lives by mentoring and coaching
  • Setting goals, objectives, actions, and measurements, with accountability for the results
  • Leading not just with their words but with their actions and modeling the behavior
  • Believing it is the responsibility of leaders to make a difference in people’s lives
  • Encouraging, inspiring, and motivating their people

When you see the definition and vision of a servant leader, it seems it should be something every leader and every company would want to embrace. It’s hard to argue with developing leaders who exhibit such skills, abilities, vision, and philosophy for leading others. But for many, it’s hard for them to understand the importance and make servant leadership a way of life.

Often when companies have tried to start new initiatives to improve relationships with their people, it has failed, because there is no real strategy or plan for developing and implementing a process. Real change takes time, patience and perseverance to make the needed people and culture improvements. They look at it as a program and not as an ongoing process. Programs are usually looked at as something short term, while process-building is for the long term. If servant leadership is going to be successful, leadership must be committed to the journey and the changes that everyone in the company will need to make in the way they lead, interact, and think about the people they lead. Some of those changes will require a commitment that causes leaders to learn how to:

  • Balance the leadership of the people with the stewardship of the company.
  • Establish the expectations with their leadership for this new servant leadership style.
  • Obtain support by all senior leadership (from the top), or it will not work
  • Ensure leaders, supervisors, and middle -managers who won’t support it or cannot change leave the company.
  • Realize it is a journey and not a quick fix.
  • Communicate the process and the strategy to the total workforce, so they know what is happening and will hold you accountable for making it happen.
  • Expect skepticism from some associates.
  • Remove the barriers that keep people and the company from reaching their goals.
  • Empower your people.
  • Dramatically improve communication up and down the chain; communication will be the glue that makes it work.
  • Build real relationships with those they lead.
  • Make resolving conflict “job one,” because there will be plenty of conflicts as you implement this strategy.
  • Move your company from reactive to proactive in its personality.
  • Position people as problems solvers, not problems in the mind of all the leaders.
  • Develop an atmosphere of innovation and imagination.
  • Make motivating, encouraging, inspiring, and energizing your people the new normal.
  • Train and teach to build your associates into a team of champions.
  • See problems as opportunities.
  • Concentrate on developing the potential of your people.
  • Set goals, objectives, actions, and measurements, with accountability for the results. Build a sense of community, where everyone is pulling together to build your competitive advantage.
  • Train, teach, and learn over and over.
  • Remember there will sometimes be pain in the journey, but it will be worth it.

Change is never an easy journey. When the implementation of servant leadership principles isn’t going as fast or as well as you would like, there will be those who say it isn’t going to work. There will be leaders and people who won’t catch or support the vision, and they will need to change or move on. As we know, anything worthwhile is never easy. But if your team will truly work together to create a collaborative effort and develop their potential and that of the company, you will create a competitive advantage that will confuse your competitors, as they try and figure out how you are accomplishing your success, how you are beating them in the marketplace, and why your customers love you so much.

As you implement your servant leadership principles, you will begin to see people in a new way, and best of all, you will begin to see a new excitement among your people. Your turnover problems will start to improve, and your vision of becoming the best place in the area to work will become a reality. You will create the security for the workforce and the company that you have always desired. Not only will the smiles of your people become brighter, but the results of your business will begin to improve.

If you can capture this vision for leadership, you will notice a change when you lay your head on your pillow at night and go to sleep. You will start to feel less stress and frustration, knowing you and your companies are making a difference in the lives of people. This will give you the true joy and happiness all of us desire: the kind that is achieved by making a difference in the lives of the people God has placed in your path. This is the kind of joy and happiness money, job titles, power and fame can never buy!


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