Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Servant Leadership

I read every comment posted to my blog and do my best to learn from the wisdom of the community.   Two comments made about my recent post Honey or Vinegar deserve special highlight.

Tony Parham posted a comment comparing Management and Leadership, quoting the work of John Kotter and Colin Powell.

 "MANAGEMENT: Control mechanisms to compare system behavior with the plan and take action when a deviation is detected.
LEADERSHIP: Achieving grand visions. Motivation and inspiration to energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do, but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one's life, and the ability to live up to one's ideals. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response."
- John P. Kotter, Professor of organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School

“LEADERSHIP is the art of accomplishing more than the science of MANAGEMENT says is possible."
- Colin Powell

My experience is that as long as a leader unites a team with a clear common goal and enables the team to do their work while supporting their self-esteem and their decisions about scope/time/resources, people thrive.   Even recent medical evidence suggests that "Honey" and the positive support of a leader yields healthy, productive, and happy staff.   Lack of such a leader can lead to negative health and reduced longevity.   It seems intuitive that our moods are linked closely to our job satisfaction and that positive mood improves health, but now we have evidence to prove it.

Katherina Holzhauser, a fellow Stanford graduate from the Czech Republic wrote to me about Servant Leadership  as part of her philosophy of favoring "Honey" over "Vinegar".  

The important take home lesson about Servant Leadership is the classic organization chart really needs to be rewritten, making staff who interact with customers the most important people in the organization.   The role of a leader to serve and support those staff so that they have the resources and processes they need to optimize customer experiences.   I completely agree with the statement that the highest priority of a servant leader is to encourage, support and enable subordinates to unfold their full potential and abilities. This leads to an obligation to delegate responsibility and engage in participative decision-making.

The goals of a servant leader - listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion (which I call informal authority), conceptualization (which I call continuous self re-examination), foresight, stewardship, commitment to people (which I call loyalty), and building community - are what guide my day to day interactions in all aspects of my life.

As we take on more work in less time at faster pace than every before, let's all strive to be servant leaders for the benefit of those who do the work and serve on the front lines healthcare and healthcare IT in our quest to alleviate human suffering caused by disease.


Wordherder said...

Servant leadership is something that many of us in the religious community are working on. I'm working toward becoming a Methodist pastor and my focus is on how to have congregations own their church community and be the hands and feet (of Jessus Christ) as we like to say. It's difficult in a world that likes the CEO model to express servant leadership in a way that most people "get." But if we are to model ourselves on the lessons of Christ, we're left with no choice but the servant leadership model. I do believe it is a powerful and effective model once all involved come to truly understand it.

TheGr8Chalupa said...

John. This post really touched me in a few ways. Lately, I've been struggling to reflect on my own motivational triggers - how am I motivated most effectively - and this post helps me intrinsically justify my longing for positive reinforcement. I'm learning more and more that I am, in fact, a very competitive individual, however, a negative competitive environment kills my spirit, and ultimately my health.

From now on I will make more of a conscious effort to be a servant leader. When those around me are positively motivated, they will only bring the rest of the team up to their potential and the positivity will be shared exponentially.

Thank you.

jamzo said...

my two-cent addition to the leadership discussion

leadership is working with others to identify and remove obstacles to achieving goals, fulfilling roles, solving problem.....

Anonymous said...

The best working environment I was ever in could be described as a Servant Leadership situation (All Children's Johns Hopkins Medicine). Those of us that worked in the trenches as clinicians and front-line managers were given the kind of support you describe John. I was so lucky to have had great role-models in Administrative Director and VP positions that valued my opinions and gave me latitude to do what needed done, and to innovate new ideas. This "style" has stuck with me. I believe it is one of the best leadership models for healthcare. I always felt supported but also stretched-- which led to personal growth. Patients truly came first and I NEVER recall being chastised for missing a meeting if there was a patient care crisis!! We were performing patient/family centered care before that term ever existed. Servant Leadership works at every level in an organization..."What can I do to help or serve YOU".
Sharon Wentz RN

Unknown said...

For a long time have searched for positive models of leadership, to take the best of these models and improve on my own style of leadership. It is difficult in today's working environment, with all that is required to be accomplished, with fewer resources, to maintain a good, if not great leadership mindset. It is very easy to fall back into managing instead of leading. On some level it's much easier to be a manager than to be a leader. To manage is to make sure that the path is clearly demarcated and that no one deviates from that path. Sometimes it's easy and sometimes it's like herding cats, very difficult if not impossible.

I like what has been said about servant leadership here. It takes a very self-confident and self assured individual to be a servant leader. To many leaders, CEO's and the like, service is demeaning and humiliating. Servant leadership is far from that notion. I embrace Jim Collin's definition of leadership in the description he has made of Level 5 Leadership. I believe Jesus to be the consumate Level 5 leader and His style is definitely Servant Leadership.

Let's embrace this style and lead and not drive our teams.

Vinodh Venkataraman said...

Great post! This entry definitely supported many of the lessons I was taught in college about what it takes to be an effective leader, and definitely reinforces what I have seen in the past when I was part of a group for either school or work. I wanted to get your thoughts on a subject that is not as often addressed when talking about managers and leaders, and that is on mistakes. I agree with Kotter’s argument when he says a manager’s goal is to make corrections when a plan is deviating, and a leader’s job is to “achieve grand visions;” but how effective can you be as a manager or a leader in terms of trust from employees after you make a major mistake? I recently came across an article in Forbes( , which talks about the 5 keys to building an organization. One of their points is that mistakes are one of the greatest ways an organization can grow, because as the individuals learn and grow from their mistakes, so will the company. Do you agree? Is it the same in a hospital setting?