Sunday, January 8, 2012

More on Servant Leadership: Commitment to your teammates

I've been practicing something called Servant Leadership for about two years now. This discipline entails being a support role, from solving your teammates' problems to inspiring confidence in your teammates.

Prior to reading The Fifth Discipline (Peter Senge) and The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle (James C. Hunter) -- I thought that "Leadership" was what you did: the budgets, the allocations, the task descriptions, the software specifications, and the meetings. While I do think those are typical tasks that  "leader" may be responsible for -- I certainly believe that "leadership" is who you are.

The true foundation of leadership is not power, but authority, which is built upon relationships, love, service, and sacrifice. Being able to stir the hearts of your teammates and inspire them with confidence is the mark of a true leader.

Characteristics of a Servant Leader
  • Listening: Traditionally, and also in servant leadership, managers are required to have communication skills as well as the competence to make decisions. A servant leader has the motivation to listen actively to subordinates and support them in decision identification. The servant leader particularly needs to pay attention to what remains unspoken in the management setting. This means relying on his inner voice in order to find out what the body, mind and spirit are communicating.
  • Empathy: A servant leader attempts to understand and empathize with others. Workers may be considered not only as employees, but also as people who need respect and appreciation for their personal development. As a result, leadership is seen as a special type of human work, which ultimately generates a competitive advantage.
  • Healing: A great strength of a Servant Leader is the ability for healing one’s self and others. A servant leader tries to help people solve their problems and conflicts in relationships, because he wants to encourage and support the personal development of each individual. This leads to the formation of a business culture, in which the working environment is dynamic, fun and free of the fear of failure.
  • Awareness: A servant leader needs to gain general awareness and especially self-awareness. He has the ability to view situations from a more integrated, holistic position. As a result, he gets a better understanding about ethics and values.
  • Persuasion: A Servant Leader does not take advantage of her power and status by coercing compliance; she rather tries to convince those she manages. This element distinguishes servant leadership most clearly from traditional, authoritarian models and can be traced back to the religious views of Robert Greenleaf.
  • Conceptualization: A servant leader thinks beyond day-to-day realities. That means he has the ability to see beyond the limits of the operating business and also focuses on long term operating goals. A Leader constructs a personal vision that only he can develop by reflecting on the meaning of life. As a result, he derives specific goals and implementation strategies.
  • Foresight: Foresight is the ability to foresee the likely outcome of a situation. It enables the servant leader to learn about the past and to achieve a better understanding about the current reality. It also enables the servant leader to identify consequences about the future. This characteristic is closely related to conceptualization.
  • Stewardship: CEOs, staffs and trustees have the task to hold their institution in trust for the greater good of society. In conclusion, servant leadership is seen as an obligation to help and serve others. Openness and persuasion are more important than control.
  • Commitment to the growth of people: A servant leader is convinced that people have an intrinsic value beyond their contributions as workers. Therefore, she should nurture the personal, professional and spiritual growth of employees. For example, she spends money for the personal and professional development of the people who make up her organization. The servant leader will also encourage the ideas of everyone and involve workers in decision making.
  • Building community: A servant leader identifies means to build a strong community within his organization and wants to develop a true community among businesses and institutions.

Being committed to the growth of people on your team and ensuring that they're treated as a person and not as a work horse is one of the most important things my mentors have taught me while aggressively pursuing my career growth. Incidentally, this means having to facilitate the situations that make that evolutionary process happen.

First thing is first: let go. One of the most difficult things to do is to get over the fact that you need status reports at every checkpoint (typically how you measure progress). Truthfully, we should all be results-oriented. Ultimately, I've thrown in a few points in regards to really start inspiring your teammates with the confidence they need to push the limits of your product (using strategies from Servant Leadership practices).

  • Tone down the policies and procedures 
  • Give your teammates freedom -- Let them take ownership and be creative
  • Trust your teammates to get the job done
  • Start building cool stuff and improving your product 
  • Tighten up the customer-product development feedback loop
  • Keep infinitely asking: "How can we have more fun?"
  • Keep infinitely asking: "Do our customers love using our product?" 

Good luck and have fun,
Jaime Bueza

Jaime Bueza is a software engineer in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has developed web applications for Nintendo, Starbucks, Bacardi, Nike, Electronic Arts, Ritchie Brothers, Kiwi Collections, Cox Communications and Microsoft. When he's not developing useful software that constantly evolves with business requirements, he's writing open source software.