Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Servant Leadership

Just over two years ago, when I first took my current job, I went to the bookstore to look for some inspiration. I had just finished my final interview, an interview focused on cultural fit, which asked me questions about how I felt about working for a Catholic health care organization and to see if my leadership style aligned with the company's opinion of how a good leader should behave. I picked up Lead Like Jesus. This book and the associated resources on the website boil down, for me, to the EGO concept: In everything you do as a leader, you can choose to:
  • Edge God Out; or
  • Exalt God Only
That concept and the idea that "everything we have is a gift from God" has had a huge impact on my personal leadership style. Those concepts inspire an appropriate humility and respect for everyone I work with, along with a confidence to speak from my heart about the relationship between what I do on a day to day basis, corporate mission and values, and personal beliefs.

The division of the company I work for is currently going through a major transition from one organizational style / structure to a new one, intended to change the way we do business with the rest of the organization and the kinds of services we provide. All of the leaders in this part of the organization have been asked to read The Servant Leader by James A. Autry.

I'm only through the first few chapters, by already I'd recommend this book to any corporate leader. The subtitle of the book is "How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance." A pretty tall order. The value I've gotten s far in reading this book is a structure and language to describe a number of things that I already feel and believe.

The first concept is a set of behaviors that summarize what is means to act as a servant leader. I remember the five points with a non-sense acronym: AVAPU
  • be Authentic
  • be Vulnerable
  • be Accepting
  • be Present
  • be Useful
These seem like utterly reasonable expectations. The irony, of course, is the amount of unauthentic, protective, argumentative, absent, and wasteful activity that occurs on the average day in the corporate world. Not to be overly cynical, but it can be a shock to examine seemingly "professional" behavior against these criteria.

The second concept in the book is one that many people ignore, I think, but that I know is a necessary part of my personal job satisfaction: vision. I believe the most powerful leadership exercise any corporation can undertake on a regular basis is the process to describe line of sight between goals. That is, taking the time to examine corporate vision, mission, purpose and describe how it is that a given department, project, or individual contributes to the achievement of those ideals. It seems to me that, if you can achieve an effective description of that line of sight, then you have a chance of being productive and effective. Without that line of sight, the best you can do is stumble upon effectiveness. The Servant Leader talks about a specific way of describing vision in terms of purpose, mission, and values that I think makes it very easy to articulate line of sight between individual actions and corporate intent. A very powerful concept for me.

I really appreciate having this kind of literature out there to help me blend my personal, professional, and spiritual life. I like the idea of being one me, not a different me depending upon the context I'm in. In college, there was a friend of mine who was questioned about something she was doing: "how do you reconcile that with your faith?" Her honest response: "It isn't a problem. I keep my faith and my personal life separate."

I like being able to say that I live my faith, work, and personal life consistently. There's just one me.

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