To improve organisational health and well-being, you need Servant-leadership

“The great leader is seen as a servant first” Robert Greenleaf 1970

In the week after the UK’s May Day public holiday, along with my colleagues Doctors Steve Glowinkowski and Henry Ratter, I spoke at the BakerFish (see www.bakerfish.com) organised conference on servant-leadership.  Our combined aim was to bring a practical contribution to the event.  Together we outlined how Glowinkowski International’s (GIL) diagnostic methodologies can assess the quality of servant-leadership in organisations as well as explaining how this can be developed.

Servant-leadership

The concept of servant-leadership was established by Robert Greenleaf in 1970 when his essay entitled “The Servant as Leader” was published – note the order of the words, here.  “The great leader is seen as a servant first,” said Greenleaf.  Greenleaf died in 1990 and his work continues through the Robert K. Greenleaf Centre for Servant-Leadership.”  Its Executive Director, Larry Spears, defines servant-leadership as, “… a new kind of leadership model – a model which puts serving others as the number one priority.  Servant-leadership emphasises increased service to others; a holistic approach to work; promoting a sense of community; and the sharing of power in decision-making.” 

In contemporary organisational syntax, the word “community” is increasingly being supplanted by that of “family”, particularly regarding employees.  However, if you are a regular watcher of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight a recent expose of the American meat-packing industry’s four main protagonists suggests they are families you do not wish to be part of, particularly if you want to keep all your limbs and digits. 

At GIL, we see considerable congruity between the ideal of servant-leadership and the link between people, their behaviours, and the climate these behaviours help distil.  This is best illustrated in our Integrated Framework, see below. 

In this you can displace the normal corporate nomenclature at the top of the framework with a single word, “Intent”, the reason for which is best exemplified in this short video featuring the captain of the US Navy’s submarine, Sante Fe, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqmdLcyES_Q.

USS Santa Fe (SSN-763) - Wikipedia

Horst Schulze, the founder of Ritz-Carlton Hotels, describes his leadership role as orienting everyone to their unifying “true north”.  Schulze’s successful career in the service-centric 5-star hotel sector was inspired by the first maître d’ he worked for, who counselled him, “You do not come into work to work.  You come to create excellence.”  Ritz-Carlton’s credo is, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” 

Horst Schulze Created Luxury Standard As Co-Founder Of Ritz-Carlton|  Investor's Business Daily

The Model of Behaviour: “come on the Blues!”

Behaviour can be assessed at different levels of detail from that of individual competences, e.g., Forward Thinking, Critical Information Seeking, up to a higher-level overview portrayed as GIL’s Model of Behaviour. 

As can be seen from the preceding illustration, this model combines a person’s orientation towards directive proactivity or passive reactivity concerning task and action, and indifference or concern relating to other people.  Being both directive and concerned, what is called Blue 4 behaviour, nurtures and sustains a healthy climate. 

Blue 4 challenges and engages, whereas Red 1 controls and commands, Amber 2 avoids and abdicates, and Green 3 befriends and pacifies. 

A deep trove of behavioural data indicates that the average first measure of Blue 4 leadership behaviour sees it delivered about 45% of the time.  In a leadership team, the aggregate is lower, at around 37%. 

What is happening the rest of the time is that one of the three others behavioural styles are being experienced by others – an individual’s behaviour is very much a case of “beauty being in the eye of the beholder”.  Thus, leaders are observed behaving in a Red 1 autocratic manner, or an Amber 2 avoidance or ambivalent manner, or a Green 3 amiable or amicable manner. 

None of the three styles bolster climate, they corrode it. 

Climate and Culture

It is worth reminding ourselves of the distinction between the condition of climate and that of culture.  Both concepts were devised contemporaneously.  Climate is defined as “how it feels to work here”, so reflects people’s sentiments about their workplace.  Culture is defined as “how we do things here”, so is far more keyed into process, procedure, and policy. 

In our Integrated Framework, culture is represented by the three components that straddle its waist, i.e., structure, behaviour, and process, ideally embedded in visible demonstration of the organisation’s published values. 

Currently, one sees and hears a great deal more about culture than climate in business literature and presentations.  Is this why workplaces are increasingly unhealthy by imposing stresses and pressure on mental health and well-being?  “Our people are our greatest asset,” is a frequent exhortation.  Their skills and knowledge may be assets that bolster competitive advantage but, first and foremost, they are people – sentient, emotive human beings. 

Personality doesn’t always bring home the prizes

How you behave is influenced significantly by your underlying personality combining your traits or predispositions, your motives and your values, see https://www.tsp-uk.co.uk/leader-of-leaders/self-insight/knowing-me-knowing-you-part-2/.  Considering the former, through GIL’s Global Predisposition Indicator (GPI) we can both predict the natural manner of Blue 4 delivery and what may be seen on bad days when predispositions can surface as delivered behaviour due to situational pressures and strains. 

Across different sectors we see different “bad day” defaults.  In professional services, the tendency is for Green or Amber to re-emerge which often means issues are not addressed quickly enough. Little spots fester into pustulating boils which are even harder to address through these two behaviours.  In a range of engineering and manufacturing settings, we see the default emerging as Red or Amber, which usually means someone gets a “public roasting”. This solves little and adds emotional fuel to the fire. Again, an issue is sometimes ignored or overlooked, perhaps initiating the start of a major incident. 

A recent series of articles in The Times about the UK building industry suggests many were aware of corners being cut in procurement of unsafe materials or disregard for fundamental safety regulations.  However, no one said anything for fear of being shouted down.  This melange of Red and Amber behaviour may well have provided the kindling to the Grenfell Tower inferno.

LOCAL SERVANT-leadership PROVIDES AN UMBRELLA

We see frequent instances of organisations producing what appears to be a coherent strategy.  However, it fails to be realised.  Or, alternatively, we encounter strategies that do not contain much “punch”, yet the organisation prospers reasonably well.  The illustration at the top of the next page depicts this and highlights the critical benefits sound leadership behaviour generates. 

While this model illustrates a whole company picture, we see a variation at a business unit or functional level, when high-quality local leadership protects the team from the disruptive machinations of those in the group-level C-suite.  Local Blue 4 behaviour provides an umbrella to protect their teams from senior leaders practising leading by the mushroom theory, i.e., leaving people in the dark and covering them in sh*t.   

An article in the Metro free newspaper drew attention to managerial “gaslighting”, see https://metro.co.uk/2021/04/22/gaslighting-what-is-and-how-to-handle-at-work-meaning-examples-14452679/?ito=cbshare , which is a particularly insidious and harmful form of leadership bullying.

Blue 4 has many “shades”

In the Model of Behaviour, Blue 4 appears as a single behaviour.  Yet, in considering the “source code” of underlying traits or predispositions we see that there are nuanced variances, or shades of blue.  From GIL’s GPI, which draws on the Big 5 Trait theory, frameworks depicting an individual’s Problem Solving and Implementation style (Big 5 Openness and Conscientiousness) and their Communication and Interpersonal Style (Extraversion and Agreeableness) combine to predict 16 possible variances of Blue 4. (We do not take into account the fifth trait, Neuroticism, which we term Feelings and Self-control.) 

A GPI profile forecasts an immediate natural Blue 4 manner; determined development over time equips the individual with the conscious competence to deliver the other 15.  A servant-leader possesses is able to deftly judge the mood of any situation and adjust their Blue 4 deportment accordingly.

Thus, someone who reports in GPI as a Visionary and a Challenger would be described as having a natural Blue 4 style termed the “expanding innovator”, i.e., seeking to grow or strengthen their organisation’s performance through conceiving many fresh, novel ideas.  Someone reporting in GPI as a Planner and a Supporter would be described as the “empathising organiser”, i.e., being attentive to others’ needs and methodical in the way work is structured and organised. 

It is utopian to consider anyone can deliver Blue 4 behaviour constantly and consistently all the time.  As mentioned, predispositions do re-surface as delivered behaviours particularly during times of pressure, stress or crisis. 

Servant-leadership’s 10 attributes and Blue 4 behaviour

Greenleaf identified 10 attributes of servant-leadership, which have been overlaid on to the Model of Behaviour, see below.  

Each has its counterpart in the other quadrants, see some examples below.

Blue 4 Servant-leader attributeRed contaminant variantAmber contaminant variantGreen contaminant variant
ListeningSelective listening – hearing what you want to hearListening for the negativesListening for the positives
HealingHarmingLeaving to festerShouldering others’ issues
Future thinking (foresight)Adopting a narrow viewBeing risk averseBeing hoodwinked or deceived

The attribute of “being aware” will enable the servant-leader to recognise when their bad day defaults start to brew. “Future thinking” helps prepare and mitigate the impact of unexpected challenges and problems, which readily act as yeast to that fermentation process. 

Those organisations led by servant-leaders have probably fared far better during the pandemic than those led by people exhibiting Red, Amber or Green behaviour.  Blue 4 is not about being benign or soft, it is far more robust, being firm yet fair, providing the vaccination of “tough love”. 

Developing Blue 4 competence

During our inputs to the conference, we were asked how we support leaders learn to behave as Blue 4 servant-leaders.  This is not achieved by a single sheep-dip immersion in a cloud of magical pixie-dust.  Instead, a structured programme of activities, both team and individual based, is undertaken. This reflects GIL’s “Model, Measure, iMplement” philosophy that has its roots in Sylvia Downs’ learning cycle of memorise, understand, do, or MUD.  Alternatively, I adopt the alliterative variation of Acquire (new knowledge), Assimilate and Act, the “Triple A of Learning”. 

GIL’s learning approach is as follows:

Harvard Business School’s article, “The Great Training Robbery”, highlights the use of the Model of Behaviour in UK food retailer, Asda, during 1990s as a rare example of a L&D initiative that delivered measurable benefits.  The article states 90% of corporate learning fails to do so. 

Consider a firm with 100 employees.  By standard distribution, 20% will be strong performers, 60% adequate and 20% will undershoot performance expectations.  If the average salary of these below-par performers is £25,000, that represents £500k of cost to which can be added, say, another £200k of associated costs.  There is then the opportunity cost of missed sales, poor service, mistakes etc., a “cost of re-work” that could easily equate to another £700k of “cost-burn”.  Investing in developing Blue 4 servant-leadership avoids such waste. 

Consider one case study Dr Glowinkowski mentioned about a technology firm.  Over three cycles of measurement, Blue 4 delivery increased from 45% to 61% to 72%, climate “healed” (to use Greenleaf’s attributional label) by 23%, and sales rose by £72m representing significant double-digit growth.  Bottom-line profitability grew faster due to productivity gains.  In another example, a brewery in Nigeria, Blue 4 behaviour increased from 35% to 51%, Climate strengthened by 10% and, in productivity terms, the logistics function increased turn-round of lorries loading and unloading from 32 to 42 per day. 

Blue 4 servant-leadership in A church context

Dr Ratter spoke about his research in the Church of England involving vicars in over 100 parishes in Cheshire.  Here, extrapolating GPI data, those vicars displaying Blue 4 behaviour grew their congregations. There was a skew in the GPI data showing vicars being Planners and Supports and, drawing in the Feelings and Self-control data, being Ill at Ease. Across this majority population, congregations were either static or shrinking. 

Dr Ratter has shared his work with the Church Times, Faith and Thought magazine (see page 17 in this document, https://1drv.ms/b/s!AjAhBlZRrjhfhKAXSYvNrg4HNnRlFg?e=UUGH78) and engaged actively with senior clerics.  Together with The Venerable Dr Barry Wilson, the Archdeacon of Montgomery, Dr Ratter and I contributed to an interview on Premier Christian Radio hosted by Andy Peck.  This can be found at,

https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Sunday/The-Leadership-Show/Episodes/The-Leadership-Show-with-Andy-Peck15

It seems the Church’s focus of attention in dealing with its challenge of relevance in an increasingly secular society is oriented more towards structural re-organisation than behavioural development.  And the re-organisation appears to be top-heavy, creating parallel roles that may denude clarity of accountability.  This cannot help the church’s mission to recruit and retain fresh disciples.

Roman Senate Minister, Gaius Petronius, said, “We trained very hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams, we would be re-organised…. We tend to meet any new situation by re-organising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress, while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation.”  As for Petronius, Nero drove him to suicide. 

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