What is servant leadership? – Back in 1990, as I was beginning to find my stride inside Motorola, we were faced with many large changes on a corporate-wide basis. These were not product changes, although there were plenty of those as well. These were changes that sought to speak to the essence of the Motorola culture and the essence of leadership.
For me, it was both an exciting as well as a confusing time. I passionately believed in the essence of servant leadership, and what I was hearing at the corporate level had the same key elements. As well, there were many programs and processes that were being implemented corporate-wide such as Six-Sigma, 10x Cycle Time Reduction, etc… and, quite frankly, it was confusing for even the best to piece together into day-to-day action.
I was inspired by the corporate messages speaking to our culture such as, “Constant respect for people and uncompromising integrity” so I set out to wrap my head around my personal leadership style, and put this into context with the wave of activity inside the company; this to provide focus and meaning to the organization for which I was the marketing director.
An eight month self-study began which crossed many disciplines and perspectives. I went back to what was instilled in me about leadership during my time in the Marine Corps. I pulled books from my shelf at home by Peter Drucker-Frontiers of Management, Tom Peters-Thriving on Chaos, The Armed Forces Officer’s Handbook, Jim Kouzes an Barry Posner-The Leadership Challenge and Robert F. Allen-The Organization Unconscious. There were many more but these stood out most to me. My goal was to bring together essence of leadership as described by all of these authors, mix in what I learned day-to-day in the Corps, find the common threads buried within the Corporate messages, and decide how I intended to lead.
Along the way I was reminded that one could not go wrong taking to heart what Peter Drucker had to say; and while I loved the passion of Tom Peters, I knew that I could not show up as a “mono-manic with a mission” as he put it. And the Armed Forces Officers Handbook, while pragmatic in its approach offered sound advice about leading and life in general.
The Leadership Challenge really spoke to me. Within it’s five principles I began to find the common thread that brought Drucker, Peters, Kouses and Posner together with what I had been taught in the Marine Corps. Things began to solidify for me and I became grounded in my beliefs on leadership. I was finding my voice, and The Leadership Challenge was the common thread that tied them all together with the corporate mantras.
Kouses and Posner summarized it in five principles:
- Creating an inspired vision
- Modeling the way
- Enabling others to act
- Challenging the process
- Encouraging the heart
All spoke loudly to me. The ones I will touch on briefly are: “creating and inspired vision” and “encouraging the heart.”
We had the technology, we had talent, the resources to grow, and we had the brand name. We also had stress, tension, egos, and disagreements on technologies that would seem to cross into the esoteric. If you singled anyone out and gave them a truth serum one would invariably find an undercurrent of fear.
In contrast to the servant leadership principles as defined by Kouses and Posner, the popular book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall used fear as the underlying motivator. In the book he writes: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
I remember hearing Born to Run quoted many times over the years. What was odd to me was that its premise was fear. Semantics, maybe, but it’s worth considering whether or not any of us would rather be led by fear, or led though inspiration and encouragement… “creating and inspired vision” and “encouraging the heart.”
I had found my voice in servant leadership.