By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Magazine Editor
The success of a business often depends on the success of its owners and/or supervisors to properly lead. It’s important to understand, however, that there are different types of leadership styles, including what is known as “servant leadership,” which primarily focuses on the growth and well-being of people, and the communities to which they belong. The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
Addressing a recent conference on the benefits of servant leadership, and how that leadership style can positively influence younger employess, including millennials, was Kevin Egan, of Egan Transportation Logistics Consultants (www.egantlc.com).
Egan also provided insight on how to engage employees in the process of servitude; and how the culture of servitude must be embodied by an entire organization, for the process to be a success. He said the process starts with a company’s leaders.
One part of Egan’s focus on servant leadership centered on how it can better lead employees who represent younger generations, including the much discussed millennials. This is important since millennials — those people born roughly from 1980 to 1996 — now represent the largest group of workers in the U.S. labor force, at 56 million, according to the Pew Research Center.
Since millennials are becoming more involved in the overall operation of different types of businesses, it’s imperative to better understand that large generation. Egan provided nine general positive traits of those people who belong to the millennial generation:
■ They have learned from their parents’ mistakes;
■ The past recession has made them resourceful;
■ They place a high value on education;
■ They question convention;
■ They are politically independent;
■ The are more tolerant;
■ They delay big decisions until prepared;
■ They are averse to dangerous risks;
■ They are pragmatic idealists; and,
■ They are savvy with technology.
“Millennials are also very comfortable with talking to others when trying to figure out the best way to do something,” Egan said. “Another interesting thing about millennials, they are not as concerned about the official chain of command within a company. They are generally not afraid to directly seek out and ask the CEO, or other top officials, about something at work.”
He added that millennials:
■ Tend to focus more on their purpose at work rather than a paycheck;
■ Focus more on their career development than current job satisfaction;
■ View their work supervisor as a “coach” rather than a “boss;”
■ Seek out ongoing conversations with supervisors rather than annual reviews;
■ Focus more on their strengths rather than their weaknesses; and,
■ Focus more on their overall life rather than their current job.
The good news is, many of the attributes that millennials exhibit fit in well with the premise behind servant leadership.
Egan explained that there are different leadership styles for the workplace. Examples include autocratic, democratic (aka participative), strategic, transformational, team, cross-cultural, facilitative, laissez-faire, transactional, bureaucratic, situational, coaching, charismatic, visionary and servant leadership.
One of those styles is not necessarily better or worse than the other. All have their benefits.
“Servant leadership is not always easy to implement, as it shows the leader from the inside,” Egan said. “If, however, a person can truly understand what is behind that form of leadership, it’s been my experience the positives will far outweigh the negatives.”
THE HISTORY BEHIND
While based on a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he published in 1970. Greenleaf (1904-1990) was the founder of the modern servant leadership movement as well as the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (www.www.greenleaf.org).
In his essay, Greenleaf stated, “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. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them, there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
According to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, a servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
Egan added, a servant leader:
■ Understands the deep human need to contribute to personally meaningful enterprises;
■ Nurtures the individual’s spirit through honest praise and supportive recognition;
■ Provides criticisms and suggestions that are not personal or harsh;
■ Encourages joy of work;
■ Acknowledges the value of an employee’s commitment to worthwhile activities; and,
■ Reminds employees to reflect on the importance of both struggles and successes, and how to learn from both.
Egan explained that servant leadership can lead as well to improved customer relationships.
“If you make it better for your employees, chances are they will make it better for your clients/customers/guests,” he said.
Also highlighted by Egan were 12 basic principles to servant leadership. They are: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, growth, building community, calling, and nurturing the spirit of joy.
“These principles focus on taking the time to listen to people, while paying attention to their wants and needs,” Egan said. “This style of leadership is not about management, it’s not about ‘being the boss,’ and it’s not about power.”
To succeed, a servant leader must also sacrifice his/her ego, pride, desire for power, need to be right, need to be in control, need to have all the answers, need to be liked and the habit of engaging conflict. It’s also far more important to focus on “leadership responsibilities” rather than “management rights.”
According to Egan, servant leadership is not soft or easy, but rather intentional and direct. A positive attitude is everything, requiring the service leader to smile, greet, talk, build rapport and take time. Servant leadership also requires forgiveness. This involves letting go of resentment and preconceived notions, while correcting the “poor” action, not the “bad” person.
“If you follow the practice of treating your employees the same way you treat yourself, then you can become a great servant leader,” Egan said.
Also discussed by Egan was what he called, “The science behind servant leadership.” This involves steps designed to help employees succeed at work. They are:
■ Make sure employees know what is expected of them while at work;
■ Give employees access to the proper materials and equipment for success;
■ Give employees the opportunities to do what they do best, every day;
■ Provide weekly recognition or praise of employees for doing good work; and,
■ Provide reassurance to employees that a supervisor or someone else at work truly cares about them, as people.
“As a servant leader, it’s important to serve while letting employees know what is expected of them, and to serve by meeting their legitimate needs,” Egan said. “Employees can’t do what they do best unless the servant leader is meeting their legitimate needs. This includes the need for proper recognition.”
RESPONDING TO BEHAVIOR
Greek philosopher Plato is quoted as saying, “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” During his presentation, Egan discussed several well-established behavior studies and practices that can help servant leaders succeed as they work to build strong relationships with employees. They are:
■ Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), which is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s. NLP’s creators claimed there is a connection between neurological processes (neuro-), language (linguistic) and behavioral patterns learned through experience (programming), and that those can be changed to achieve specific goals in life, according to Egan. They also claimed that NLP methodology can “model” the skills of exceptional people, allowing anyone to acquire those same skills.
The philosophy of NLP follows the belief that, “If you can believe it, you can achieve it,” Egan said.
■ Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), developed by psychotherapist and psychologist Albert Ellis, is an active-directive, philosophically- and empirically-based psychotherapy, the aim of which is to resolve emotional and behavioral problems and disturbances, thus helping people to lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
According to Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors: New Directions for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, written by Ellis in 2001, a fundamental premise of REBT is that humans do not get emotionally disturbed by unfortunate circumstances, but rather by how they construct their views of those circumstances through their language, evaluative beliefs, meanings and philosophies about the world, themselves and others.
Egan noted that understanding REBT can help servant leaders diffuse difficult situations with employees, and in turn, help employees do the same with customers.
“I would recommend that anyone who wants to become a servant leader further look into NLP and REBT. There are volumes of books written about those topics,” he said.
According to Egan, an important part of servant leadership is understanding that during crucial conversations with employees, stakes are often high, opinions may vary and emotions can run strong.
“As a servant leader, it’s important to ask yourself during such conversations, ‘How can I be both 100 percent honest and 100 percent respectful? How can both sides come to a common agreement?’” Egan said.
He outlined four common reasons why crucial conversations go poorly between a supervisor striving to be a servant leader and an employee. They are:
■ Biology — High Adrenaline Causes A Fight Or Flight Response: “An example of this is if an employee gets into the face of a supervisor and starts yelling. The supervisor might respond by yelling right back at the employee,” Egan said. “In that type of situation, 10 different supervisors may exhibit 10 different responses.”
He added that servant leaders should work in advance on the proper response for that type of situation, and if necessary, change his/her natural biological response for the better.
■ Surprise — Something Arises Without Warning: “When something sudden happens, it’s usually in response to something else,” Egan said. “As servant leaders, you have to be ready for surprise conflicts and counter them with proper responses.”
■ Confusion — Situations That Often Require Supervisors To Improvise Without Time To Rehearse: “A lot of times in those situations, information surrounding a conflict contains inaccuracies,” Egan said.
■ Self-defeating Behavior — Doing Or Saying Something That Makes A Situation Worse: “We all say and do stupid things,” Egan said. “This can greatly add problems to a conversation that is going poorly.”
Overall, it’s important that servant leaders are properly trained to handle conflicts. For such leaders, that involves taking the time to understand different situations, knowing how to calm people down, and “assuring those people that you, as a leader, understand where they are coming from,” Egan said.