For the past decade, we have focused primarily on the what of leadership, and only tangentially on the why of leadership. Of course, the whole concept of leadership is problematic today because modern technology has produced prosperity and a growing professional class of independence, competence, security, and self-confidence.
All of this has led to the egalitarian anti-hierarchical spirit of the age, which threatens to make traditional management unimportant and leaders dispensable. The mystical charm of “being managers” has been drastically reduced as the fulcrum of the problem-solving has shifted to professionals, of course, without the power or authority.
Servant Leadership Today
I now define leadership simply as the vision to see, the ability to serve, and the skill to design and sell and implement a strategy that meets the first two criteria.
The vision to see is to have an accurate assessment of where you are, where you want to go, and how you plan to get there. The vision to see includes manpower, methods, and motivation. Organizations, like individuals, are born, grow to maturity, establish their identity, and use this to create their niche in the marketplace, and then grow less nimble and flexible and ultimately decline.
As the individual has to reinvent himself at different stages of his life to remain competent and competitive, so also does an organization. As the individual’s vision becomes more myopic, requiring the aid of glasses, contacts, or laser surgery, so also must an organization install corrective devices to focus and see things as they are rather than as they once were or as they should be.
The organization’s culture, communications, and competence are closely tied to manpower, methods, and motivation.
Culture is the invisible hand that dictates what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. The structure of work determines the workplace culture; the culture represents the values and beliefs; these drive behaviors. The function of work determines the structure of work, the structure of work determines the workplace culture, and the culture prescribes organizational behavior. If the organization knows what it wants to achieve and is structured to accomplish that goal, behavior will be purposeful, and the goal will be achieved. The goal or objective plus the appropriate culture equals purposeful performance.
Manpower relates to having the right mix of people to do the jobs required with the appropriate training and skills. This demands an assessment of readiness of skills available, a talent bank, and a critical analysis of changing manpower needs.
Servant Leadership: Motivation and Methods
Methods involve the infrastructure of how work is done. If you design a company where there are discrete departments, work will follow territorial imperatives out of which develop pecking orders, levels of elitism, and status. Conversely, teamwork cells represent an organic approach where departments and functions are integrated into a common goal, and support each other in user-friendly terms.
Motivation is the litmus test of productivity, which is based on the perception of control and satisfaction as a function of structure. Morale and motivation are often confused. You can have high morale and low productivity. You likely won’t have high motivation and low productivity. Morale is an effect, not a cause. Motivation is a cause, and motivation is not directly tied to incentives.
Incentives are meant to put a fire under you. Motivation involves creating a fire in you. Motivation ties into the third part of my definition of leadership where selling is involved. Incentives are external stimuli in the form of rewards to workers who are dependent on the reward giver. Motivation is inner directed and represents the self-satisfaction of a job well done. Incentives are manipulative devices successful with other-directedness, while motivation is enabling or selfdirected. It is the difference between a worker going to management with a problem and a worker going to management with a solution.
Incentives work well when a passive work force is the norm, where management acts as parent to workers. Those days are gone. No organization can afford a passive and dependent work force.
Today 80 percent of the work force is white-collar and college-trained. Knowledge power beats position power. Lateral communications or horizontal integration of effort at the operating level is critical to success, not vertical directives from policy makers remotely located at the top. Timeliness is critical in decision-making, meaning most decisions must be made at the level of consequences to ensure success.
Servant Leadership: Motivation and Morale
Motivation and morale dovetail if success is to be realized. Motivation is based on the attitude of the individual. Attitude is a predisposition to act in a certain way. Morale is a corporate or group index. These have been confused, as companies have created cultures of comfort and complacency in an attempt to raise morale, thinking high morale was the key to productivity and that motivation would follow naturally. Supporters of this concept give workers everything but the kitchen sinkrecreational complexes, liberal policies, generous benefits, paid leaves-and few, if any, of these benefits are tied to productivity measures. Even performance appraisal becomes a routine exercise for incremental raises. Cultures of comfort and complacency are merely fun places to go and socialize; work is not necessarily the primary focus. What motivates people most is a culture that provides clear work objectives, the training and tools to accomplish tasks, the trust that they will perform well, the freedom and control of the work, the support needed when they fall short of the mark, and a fair economic split in company profits. These people don’t need a lot of bells and beads, slogans, or rah-rah sessions. This is the culture of contribution as opposed to that of comfort and complacency because workers own what they do and are pro-active rather than reactive.
When people are provided with challenging work and measured and rewarded fairly with regard to that work, motivation, morale, and productivity follow. The focus of morale is on the work climate; the focus of motivation is on the job. Leadership with a vision to see blends these two factors to support productive work.
The second factor in leadership is the ability to serve. Leaders must be complete followers. They must have the best interests of those they serve in mind, and know them as they know themselves—how they think, feel, believe and behave; what they value, why they value it, and what are their greatest hopes and fears. Otherwise, their ability to serve is a charade. That does not mean the leader gives people all that they want, but rather that he helps them find the way to what they need. The goals of the company and the needs of the workers are interdependent. It would be wrong to meet goals at the expense of the workers, but it would be equally counter-productive to meet the needs of the workers at the expense of company goals. The leader behaves not as a concerned parent but as an honest broker, sharing with workers his vision of where they are, where they are going, and how they might get there. This means he shares information strategically, enabling workers to make decisions appropriate to the work at hand and the company’s best interests.
Moreover, the ability to serve does not suggest that what is proposed is always necessarily supported by the majority. The majority often has a vested interest in the status quo, and the status quo may be what is derailing the operation.
Some CEOs are culpable for malfeasance, corruption, cover-up, or cooking the books, but to me their greatest crimes are lack of vision, betrayal of those they serve, and failure to create a cohesive and winning strategy in the face of bold new challenges.