DPMS — Servant Leaders?

Tonight marked the first DO PM of 2016. For those of you who don’t know, DO PM is a bi-monthly meetup for people who manage digital projects in and around Oxfordshire.

We were fortunate to have Gez Smith speak tonight on the subject of Servant Leadership. His talk really struck a chord with me, so much so, I decided to opt out of the post meetup mingling and pen some of my initial thoughts he shared this evening whilst they’re fresh in my mind.

What is it?

Servant leadership makes sense when you compare it to what it isn’t

“Management is about creating order and consistency in an organisation, whilst leadership is about creating change and movement”

Kotter, J.P (2008)

Gez provided a brief timeline of management describing the movement away from trait-based, influence and power during the 1930’s to a group approach to management during the 1950’s leading up to the transformation and return of traits i.e. the shift towards influence rather than control during the last 40 years which has lead to the introduction of authentic and servant leadership.

Good leaders must first become good servants

Robert Greenleaf, 1904

Gez referred to the green leaf test, that test being ‘do those served grow as persons while being served’

What are the traits of a servant leader?

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Awareness
  5. Persuasion over coercion
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the growth of people

Gez also talked about the characteristics of a servant leader. He referenced this great Buddhist quote

“A leader is best when people barely know that he exists”

Servant Leaders are concerned more about those around them than themselves. As Sam Barnes would put it, they’re keen on doing well not good.

Why do we need it

Gez argues we can’t be truly agile without Servant Leadership.

One of the key agile principles is

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Companies tend to have a hierarchy with customers at the bottom of the pyramid reporting into front line staff and front line staff trying to impress their managers, the managers are trying to impress the head of departments etc and the CEO, sits at the top. The problem with this? This implies the highest priority is to satisfy the CEO, not the customer.

Turn this on its head and you get something like this

This model relies on Servant Leadership, i.e. the CEO serves the Directors the Directors serve the Head of Department and so and so forth but everyone focused on the highest priority, the customer.

My personal take-aways

Servant Leadership is about

  • Building trust
  • Letting the team take the credit
  • Personal connection
  • Being human
  • It’s a profession / calling
  • It comes with moral responsibility
  • You’re responsible for “holding in trust the organisation you work at for future organisations”

Servant Leadership is a relatively new concept, if it’s done right, it’ll be difficult to see the influence and impact the Servant Leader is making. So work for organisations that understand and champion leadership.

As a vocation goes, I feel like this might be the one for me.

I’m excited to see the change and movement that brings in my life and to the others around me.

Follow DO PM on Twitter to hear about our next event. I’d love to see you there.