My goal is to develop leaders that understand the power of committing to something outside of their own self-interest and see themselves as a resource to help those they have been given the privilege to lead. I call these purposeful servant leaders, and in my experience they are rare.
If the term servant smacks too hard against your power paradigm, let it go. This type of leadership goes by several different labels. The key is the leader sees herself as a resource for her constituents. The question that drives this leader is “how can I help?”
This is in contrast to the paradigm of leadership where the leader sees herself as THE source. If you think you are THE source, you are the oracle, the source of all operational insight and leadership wisdom. If it doesn’t emanate from you, the oracle, it can’t be worth much. I’d like to tell you this is the old paradigm of leadership, but in my experience it is still very alive and well. Much of that is OUR fault because we love oracles. It gives us someone to credit when things go well and someone to blame when they fail; hence, we never have to assume full responsibility ourselves.
Think this is milquetoast leadership? Think again. For this to work, the leader must get her followers to the place where they are purposeful actors taking autonomous action. It takes a lot of work to get your followers to the place where the design of their jobs and all other processes under your control (e.g. selection, training, feedback, reward, supervision) necessitates and facilitates their autonomous action. Everyone in this system has to assume full responsibility for themselves and their role in achieving the shared purpose.
Void of shared purpose, their is no reason to assume full responsibility. Someone else will take care of things, and someone else will take care of me. As I have stated before, I think purpose is both a top line and a bottom line issue.
How do you learn to be a purposeful, resourceful leader? This is path dependent and does not happen overnight, but there is little causal ambiguity.
If you don’t learn how to follow, you will never be prepared to lead. Stay tuned – I will discuss this critical foundation next time.