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"Modern", "Servant" or Just "Genuine" Leadership

The traditional command-and-control approach to leadership, which emphasises strict hierarchies and a focus on maximising productivity above all else with little if any regard for the wellbeing of the teams that are intrinsic to achieving any performance, has been the norm in many organisations for decades and whilst the need for fundamental change in the mindset of leaders is no news to anyone reading this, the amount of talk-versus-do that happens on the topic is now at a nearly criminal level when we have both employees and managers suffering from a lack of support and tools to better themselves on the topic.

As I mentioned before, to get a quick injection of all the behaviours managers should diminish or encourage to become genuine “modern leaders” I devised an EQ, Psychological Safety and New (Modern/Servant) Leadership Masterclass. In only two hours leaders get a crash course in team dynamic, Psychological Safety behaviours, CBT, empathy, radical honesty, effective communication for tech teams and much more. I’ve put this together firstly because I despaired at the lack of education in the market that only fed the “But I don’t know where to start” paralysis for most leaders.

Most work in enterprises that do not even mention this and have no interest in training them. A fortunate few have some exposure through their learning and development programs. That said, they all complain that traditional courses they are sent to are long, stiff, riddled with wooden language, non-hands-on, impractical and let’s face it boring and inefficient. My first goal in each of these mini-workshops? Connect. Make participants really feel the topic. In the same way that I ask everyone to recall when they were last in a team that had Psychological Safety. We can only connect to these topics when we are genuinely able to understand and appreciate our various emotions and when we recall it as a lived experience.

When it comes to servant leadership, the need to be empathic and open is even more stringent - so I really try to make feel the need and the calling in this case.

The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” -said Robert K. Greenleaf, founder of the modern servant leadership movement and who are we to disagree?

  • HBR said 58% of employees trust strangers more than their own boss.

  • California’s Berkley found that employees who feel valued by their direct manager are 60% more likely to report they are motivated to do their very best for their employer.

  • Another study found that 80% are likely to leave a job where they perceive the leader is autocratic.

Countless other studies found that servant leadership was associated with decreased levels of employee burnout and increased levels of psychological empowerment.

We could go on and on. And we ought to. We need the connection, then we need the data and stats and at long last we need to get to practicing.

There is essentially one fundamental question that every manager should ask themselves to instantly elevate themselves to the status of aspiring servant-leader: “How can I simplify and improve the physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being of my team members?

It’s a big question with no simple answer and to start chipping at it, one needs to first understand the needs of the team and then make it a priority to always serve them. And those who had become people managers -in particular in the technology industry but everywhere else as well- are sometimes the least equipped to understand some of those needs in particular when it comes to emotional well-being.

It’s fine to start with the easier ones. Perhaps the team needs smarter physical provisions when it comes to remote work, perhaps there are ways to mitigate against burnout by mitigating against excessive cognitive load by adopting new work practices or protecting their time for the “human work”.

More often than not, it’s about 1-on-1s and team meetings that are genuinely open and that serve as solid and safe environment for all of the team members to get to know each other and open up so that one day they can all recognise each other’s emotional needs.

The day that these things will no longer be either taboo or shunned due to sheer exhaustion and lack of passion and trust. The day that the “Human Work” is the norm in every team. That is the day that a former old school micro-manager can feel genuinely transformed into a servant leader.

A leader that is first and foremost unafraid themselves or they can never arrive there. A leader concerned with how their team experiences work life so they can remove any obstacles from their way to see them win.

A leader unconcerned with the potential of running too far ahead in front of the enterprise that has not yet found their way to servant leadership retraining.

A leader who generously spent time to mentor others and bring them to the new leadership mentality they need.

A genuinely compassionate, invested, caring, empathic and emotionally intelligent inspirational character worth following and that can be trusted to genuinely help instead of hinder or check.

No one says it’s easy but the first step is to recognise the need for a sustained and formal push for servant leadership and then connecting and developing a practice. Waltz into HR’s inbox and ask where the push is. What have they devised that will get you there? What do they think will help? How will they reward this new Human Work? Don’t let them wave some generic “leadership development course” divorced from the reality of the everyday tech work - ask how that applies to Agile practices. How will it help you “read” your people better? What pop-psychology shortcuts could you use to jump ahead? How will it help you be who you need to become as a servant leader because as this says, we can’t do Agile in its absence.

Servant leaders are much happier than their control obsessed counterparts. You deserve it.

Transforming a team, let alone an entire organisation, from the principles of command and control to those based on servant-leadership from plans based on prediction to plans based on empirical and evolutionary data requires both patience and tenacity” said Geoff Watts, author of “Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant Leadership” and I can’t agree more.

It also requires guidance - and for that get in touch with me in particular now as I’m discussing some exciting partnerships that may make the learning even smoother and more immersive- and it also requires heart and a willingness to be courageously human as a leader and for that, there’s no one else to get in touch with but yourself.


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