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Servant Leadership [Part Three]

We began this discussion about Servant Leaders following a meeting where Anne turned the organization chart upside down to illustrate that the purpose of the senior leaders and the “headquarters functions” is to support the people who deliver the organization’s promises to its customers.

From there, we moved on to consider how Servant Leadership could support Diversity and Inclusion. Anne cited Juana Bordas, who demonstrated how “Servant Leadership is deeply anchored in Black, American Indian, and Latino cultures,” in her book “Salsa, Soul, and Spirit.”

Anne declared, “We need to create connections between Servant Leaders from diverse backgrounds who can help us all understand how to communicate and how to behave in diversity-sensitive ways.” She also mentioned the nine principles of Multicultural Leadership that Juana Bordas outlined as a foundation for Leaders to use in their efforts towards Diversity and Inclusion.

Picking up the conversation today, I asked Anne about Juana's nine principles.

“These principles can be summed up in one paragraph," she suggested.

“Let us learn from the past, from a time when Black, American Indian, and Latino cultures dominated the North American continent; a time when there was a spirit of generosity, of hope and forgiveness, when the focus was on “we” rather than “me,” a time of inclusivity where everyone was part of one family and worked towards the common good; a time when Intergenerational leaders were identified and granted authority by the community based on their contribution and activism.

“I know there has been quite a lot of debate over the label “Servant Leader,” and I wish I could offer a better one, one that would inspire adoption of an inclusive, encouraging, uplifting approach that guides us all towards a better world for everyone.

"Traditional Leaders have been defined in terms of rank, power, control, and driving performance from the top with a focus on the bottom line.

“When we talk about other “Non-Traditional” leadership approaches such as Transformational Leaders, Authentic Leaders, and Collaborative Leaders, we see commonality with Servant Leaders. Non-Traditional” Leaders share authority, responsibility, accountability, and recognition, in pursuit of a common goal while creating opportunities for everyone to grow and develop along the way.

"I started out as a Traditional Leader and learned very early on that I would need to find a different way to lead."

"How did that happen? Can you give us an example?" I asked Anne.

"Yes, and it is a pretty simple example: our company dress code. Essentially our dress code told men what they had to wear (e.g., long-sleeved shirt, tie, pants with a crease, dark socks, leather shoes), and women what they could not wear (e.g., no bare legs, no halter tops, no bare shoulders, no leggings, no flip flops.) This was just fine with me, and I did not give it a thought until the day I was challenged by a male employee, who asked why men had to wear long-sleeved shirts and women didn’t have to.

"A Traditional Leader might have responded with something about company image, standards, traditions, etc. A "Non-traditional" Leader would take a different approach, asking questions to learn why this is important to the person raising the issue, asking how important it is to themselves, the rest of the organization's people, and whether a change was appropriate.

"At the time, I admit I was annoyed by the challenge and would have just as soon the problem went away (as I thought I had more important things to worry about). But, instead, I adopted a "Non-traditional" approach, one that put the definition of our dress code in the hands of the employees and empowered them to develop a new set of standards through collaboration (inclusion) among themselves (a diverse group that included men and women, multiple generations, multiple religions, and ethnic heritages.

It didn't take long for a new dress code document to reach me, and I authorized the implementation of the new standards, which:

  • were less prescriptive,

  • included casual Fridays, and

  • required a fee of $2 for the privilege of wearing jeans on Friday**.

"The outcome was an even greater sense of pride in how we present ourselves.

Not long after the change, when I observed three of my employees on their way out to lunch, all dressed smartly, with fresh haircuts and heads held high, I felt proud of them, and I vowed to change my approach overall.

"I believe that decision, to be inclusive, collaborative and encouraging, to share the decision-making with the people most impacted, put me on the path to becoming a Servant Leader, a "Non-Traditional" Leader whose team stayed with the company for many years, who took risks and accepted responsibility, who grew and developed as they contributed immensely to our success as we served our clients.”

With that, we will wrap up our discussion about Servant Leadership and move on to a new topic next week.

We welcome your comments – whether you agree or disagree.

** $2 fee donated to employee designated charity.

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