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Are You a Closeted Servant Leader?

Are You a Closeted Servant Leader? post image

Are you afraid to talk about leadership development at work? Would you like to invest more in developing your people, but worry that your boss will pooh pooh the idea?

You’re not alone.

This week, I had the honor of co-hosting the Online Servant Leadership Summit with Becky Robinson. We had some great guests including Ken Blanchard, author of the new One Minute Manager and Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes. You can watch the recordings and pick up some awesome free resources here. A common question coming in from the audience was “Is it possible to be a servant leader if the culture doesn’t support it?”

The answer from all participants was a resounding “Yes!”

Now as a moderator, it would have been uncouth for me to jump up and down and scream,  “YES, YES, YES!!! In fact, the more the culture is lacking these behaviors, the more vital it is that you put your own fears and vulnerabilities aside and serve well. You’re not serving anyone if your first thought is to protect yourself, fit in, and let fear and intimidation roll right past you on the way to your team!”

But the phone call I received yesterday, made me realize I needed to scream this message from some rafter, and thank goodness, we have one right here ;-)

A high-ranking official of an important non-profit doing great work reached out to me via LinkedIn– after participating in the Summit.

We laughed about the Summit attracting people who already believe in leading through service, and that the folks who most need to hear the message would likely not sign-up. His next words shocked me. “You’ve got to understand the culture. My boss has no idea I participate in such things, we just don’t talk about leadership development around here. I do what I need to do–but in secret.” Wow.

I thought back to the conversation I had earlier in the week with a manager who so wants to bring in my online course for her team, but is afraid to raise the topic with her boss–because it will look like she’s not focused on more important matters. Huh? If you know your team’s results will improve as they develop, have THAT conversation.

A vital part of being a servant leader is advocating for what your team needs.  Scared leaders can’t serve well.

You Can Serve Well Without Using the S Word

If the S word scares your boss, for goodness sake, don’t use it. Just serve. Serve your team. Serve your boss. Serve your peers. Serve your customers. Get results. You’ll attract real servants like a magnet and the upwards results spiral will continue.

I’ve worked for some really tough cookies over the years. I would never have set up a meeting to talk about building a servant leadership culture. I just did it, the results followed, and they gave me bigger teams to turn around. I spent 30% of my time developing leaders, who then got promoted and led the way they knew got results (no S word articulated, just lived).

One of the senior execs I worked for actually told me privately over coffee, “The difference between you and me is that you’ll stand up for your principles even if it rubs people the wrong way. Man, do I respect that.”

I don’t think most C-levels care if you want to be a servant leader, as long as you out perform expectations with a side effect of strong employee engagement. If the culture’s not right to call it serving— don’t worry about semantics. Just live it. Teach it. Help your team grow.

P.S. If you need help convincing your boss to invest in leadership development, call me 443-750-1249. I’ll help you.

Your turn. What advice do you have for servant leaders working in cultures that don’t support serving?
Filed Under:   #ResultsThatLast, Authenticity & Transparency, confident humility
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers, AMA's 50 Leaders to Watch in 2015, & Top Thought Leader in Trust by Trust Across America. She’s the author of 2 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss.
 

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What People Are Saying

LaRae Quy   |   13 November 2015   |   Reply

I always love your topics, Karin, and this is no exception!

Servant leadership has become a favorite buzzword for coaching and consulting firms but it’s important to remember that everyone must FIRST be authentic as a leader. And not everyone is a servant leader. It takes a certain personality style to fully inhabit the term servant. If it is not your personality, don’t try to be a square peg in a round hole.

If we are humble, grateful, and kind to others is that being a servant leader? Probably. The term servant is really weighed down with negative stuff except for those people who find serving others a kick, and then they’re all over it.

Leaders need to keep in mind that growing their team is what is important, and like you, leave the “S” word out of it.

Karin Hurt   |   16 November 2015   |   Reply

LaRae, So beautifully said. Thank you.

Jonathan Moss   |   14 November 2015   |   Reply

Love this! It amazes me that there are still organizations and leaders or should I say (managers & bosses) that don’t exercise the servant leader philosophies and principles!!! Preach on Karin! Preach on!!

Karin Hurt   |   16 November 2015   |   Reply

Thanks, Jonathan. What is even more disturbing is how many companies I’m encountering who’ve never done much leadership development at all… who just don’t see the value. The more time I spent developing leaders on my team, the better the results.