By Hank Hobbs, South Georgia Region Manager, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech
Organizations are complex phenomena which are not easily understood and often misrepresented. This is due in part to the complex structure and the fact that companies are staffed with people of various educational levels, working backgrounds, cultures, values, personalities, and motivations. In each company there is usually some form of leader or manager who ultimately has the responsibility for success of the organization.
John Updike, a two time Pulitzer Prize winning author, once said, “A leader is one who, out of madness or goodness, volunteers to take upon himself the woes of the people. There are few men so foolish, hence the erratic quality of leadership.” According to Updike, “leadership and hence the organizations in which the leaders reside, are full of messes”. Among the various messes (and the subject of this report) are the personalities, behaviors, value dilemmas, morals, motives and ethics that exist within the organization, how these are related to overall organizational dynamics, and how leaders may employ certain “laws”, strategies, and the concept of self-awareness in an effort to negate negative attributes and to provide true “servant leadership.”
To define how organizations are thought to be complex, one must look at the make-up, the internal and external influences, and how the organization behaves. “Organizations are populated by people, whose behavior is notoriously hard to predict” (Bolman & Deal, 2008, pg 31). Whether organizations are part of the public sector – nonprofit type or private – for-profit corporations, organizations are under a constant state of change. Everything from the employees, customers, business focus, and strategy, to pressures applied by political influence and the flattening of the global economy, has an influence on the organizational dynamics. This ever changing nature leaves the manager or leader constantly searching for the answers to questions while the questions continue to change. “The solution to yesterday’s problems often create future obstacles” (Bolman & Deal, 2008, pg 32). Due to the complexity of today’s organization, a manager taking action is often like shooting a wobbly cue ball into a scattered array of billiard balls. Balls go in every direction, and it is often impossible to know how things will sort out (Bolman & Deal, 2008). According to John Maxwell (2007), “Times change, technology and organizations must be prepared to march forward.” There is no panacea for all the challenges that face an organization in today’s global economy. In searching for answers, all of these complex considerations must be taken into account in order to formulate an action plan. As a leader, one must keep his or her eye on the prize, the overall goal of the organization. While doing this, each situation, each individual, each behavior, and each relationship must be taken into consideration based on its own merits, and an overall dynamic must be formulated. How a leader responds to any given situation or individual can either positively impact the organization or create a negative reaction among the organization and its stakeholders.
Due to their complexity, inherent unpredictability, and deceptive nature, companies exemplify a certain sense of ambiguity. Bolman and Deal refer to this as “a dense fog that shrouds what happens from day to day.” Figuring out what is really going on in organizations is not easy. It is difficult to the get the facts and even if one does get all the facts, it is difficult to know what they mean or how to interpret them (Bolman & Deal, 2008). One may ask, “Why is this?” As previously mentioned, organizations revolve around people. When dealing with people, the manager or leader encounters different interpretations of even the same information, incomplete and vague information, different behaviors and personalities. All these factors enhance ambiguity, which. can come from a vast array of sources, but for the most part is usually tied to uncertainty, which relates back to trust, whether relative to the problem, resources, procedures, or even the desired outcome (Bolman & Deal, 2008).
Leadership is defined as the skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically toward
goals identified for the common good. The true measure of leadership is relative to trust and respect which, in turn, is relative to influence. Influence is getting others to willingly participate (Maxwell, 2003). Participation is the key to effectively solving problems; a leader must surround himself with key players who, willingly, feel free to participate and respect and support the decisions of management. To lose influence over subordinates would ultimately result in a loss of participation and thus result not only in an ineffective leader but also in ineffective decisions made by the overall organization. Power, which some leaders deem most important, is the “ability” to force someone to do their will; while authority is the “skill” of getting people to willingly participated because of their influence. Margaret Thatcher, as quoted in Hunter (1998) once said, “Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to remind people that you are, you aren’t.” Authority is the skill we should be striving toward, and leadership is a skill not an ability (Hunter, 1998).
Laws, like skills, can be learned and practiced, can stand alone, can carry consequences, and are the foundation of leadership (Maxwell, 2007). John Maxwell (2007) promotes Twenty-one Laws of Leadership, three of which reiterate the basis of the true essence of servant leadership. The Law of Connection contends that a leader touches a heart before he asks for a hand; the law of magnetism is based on the premise of “who you are is who you attract”, and the law of buy-in states that people buy into the leader before the vision.
Servant leadership starts with the basic understanding of the CEOS, which are defined as customers, employees, owners, and suppliers. Relationships with these stakeholders are built upon trust, which is the glue that holds the organization together (Hunter, 1998). The typical paradigm of leadership is from top down…do as I say…not as I do, is no longer an option when one submits to this form of leadership. One must lead by example. According to Hunter (1998), “If you want to lead then you must have the will to serve. Service requires sacrifice. Intentions without actions equal nothing. Intentions with action equals will. Leadership begins with will, aligning our intentions with our actions which from there leads to love, the verb, which is meeting the needs of those we lead.” A leader is someone who identifies and meets the needs of his people, removes all barriers, so he can serve the stakeholders. This ideal takes will to want to serve. The role of leadership is service, which is to identify and to meet the legitimate needs of others. In this process, one will often be required to sacrifice for those he serves. Remember, the only person you can change is ones’ self, but as a leader, changing ones’ self will change the masses. Everything you do sends a message to all those around you (Hunter, 1998).
All effective leaders have exemplary character traits which are tied to trust and thus their ability to lead people (Maxwell, 2003). People will work hard for an individual they respect and trust. Trust means confidence and in an organization high trust lifts everything around it and can overcome all obstacles. Trust improves communication, collaboration, execution, innovation, strategy, engagement, partnering, and the relationship with all stakeholders (Covey, 2006). Leadership competencies based on character traits all play a major role in developing the trust factor. Emotional self-awareness initiates a leader’s ability to be in tune with his own and respective counterparts, inner signals, and recognition of how his feelings, emotions, and behaviors affect his reactions and job performance. An emotionally self-aware manager will stay in tune with his guiding values, keep a check behavioral style and usually chart the best course of action (Goleman).
Bolman and Deal (2008) identify that the fit between the organization and people must be right. When the fit is poor, one or both suffer. Individuals likely are exploited by the organization, or the organization is exploited by the individual, either way both lose. An organization must hire individuals that fit their company values. By doing so, they are employing a strategy for hiring the right people, keeping them, investing in them, and empowering them. Fit must begin with identifying and becoming emotionally self-aware of one’s personal or behavioral style of leadership. For 30+ years, organizations have been using personality/behavioral style assessments to bring managers to grips with themselves and co-workers. The DiSC profile has been credited with opening the door to understanding dynamics that influence communication and positive relationships in the workplace. According to Inscape Publishing, the distributor of DiSC, the foundation of leadership success lies in understanding oneself, understanding others, and realizing the impact of one’s behavior on others. DiSC focuses on four behavioral dimensions: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness.
Organizations are an interconnected group of people who work toward a common goal. In order to achieve this goal many obstacles including personalities, behaviors, value dilemmas, morals, motives and ethics stand in the way. The author of this document believes that, while the organization is dynamic in nature and there is no panacea for all the situations that will arise, by building an organization around self-awareness, respect, authority, and employing various laws/skills relative to building relationships, the organization/leader will paint the picture of true “servant leadership.” According to Hunter (1998), true servant leadership is dependent upon the one person the leader has complete control over, the only person he can change, and by changing this one, the leader will change the masses… that person is the leader himself. In this flat world in which we live, the answer to the leadership equation neither lies in the concrete systems and technology of the organization nor does it lie in the hands of a consultant. The real answer lies within the one thing that is common to every organization, and that if removed will destroy the most powerful business, government, or relationship. If developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in any organization. That one thing is trust (Covey, 2006).
This is part of a series of articles for manufacturing improvement. Download a pdf of "Servant Leadership".