Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Servant Leadership

When I was thinking about the demise of Medic999’s Blog for the previous post I remembered a comment he made during the live audio webcast for the most recent set of ‘A Seat at the Table” recordings. I had gotten home late after another rough day and remembered the live feed, but got there pretty late when they were halfway through the third session. I listened in while I reviewed email and did other computer chores. It was most interesting after they ‘wrapped’ and left the mic open for 15 minutes or so and we got to hear several broken conversations abut moving forward and follow up thoughts on comments made during the sessions. As they were not taping, there was no mic coordination and some things were hard to hear. There was a comment, only partially heard about how a good leader serves those who follow him/her. I heard Mark ask “yes, don’t they call that ‘slave leadership’ or some such thing?” and a comment was posted on the chat screen correcting him that it was actually called “Servant Leadership”. I am familiar with this term and concept and had intended to make a post here or follow up with an email to Mark expounding on the topic as I thought it would be a valuable topic to get out in the main stream. Alas, with Mark’s site gone, this forum will have to suffice and I can only hope the 5 people who read this blog will get the word out.
Briefly explained, Servant Leadership is a concept whereby the Leader’s main purpose is to serve the needs of those he leads. That is to say that the leader’s job is to make sure the people he leads have the information, tools, training, support, or whatever else they need to get the job done. This allows those being led to accomplish their goals without constant and persistent direction from the Leader. Done right, it provides a certain level of personal satisfaction in the ‘workforce’ in that they have met their goals largely on their own with the tools they have been given, and it also satisfies the Leader in that his ‘crew’ is functioning well with minimal intervention.
Of course, the devil is in the details and this process takes a lot of skill and a little extra work initially, but just as it stands, wouldn’t you think this might be a great concept? I did, and that’s why I have been practicing it for over 10 years. I can tell you that it is indeed, not easy. You need to make sure your people know what is expected, and what is not. You have to be VERY clear. Putting things in writing provides a ready reference for everybody as to what was said, and it also shows that you believe in your plan enough to commit it to writing and stand behind it, or modify it as new things are learned.
You also need to be consistent. Leaders who cannot control their emotions need not apply here. People need to know how you will react in a given situation and you need to control your reactions to comply with the message you have previously sent. If you ‘change directions’ on them, they will quickly lose interest in trying to work as a team. When you do need to change directions, they deserve an explanation so that they understand why a change was required. Admitting your own mistakes is part of the job. Nobody should expect a Leader to be perfect, and one that can admit mistakes and move on will have a crew that should be able to do the same without being made to look foolish. We save a lot of time, effort, and credibility when we say “Hey, that was a really bad idea I had, let’s not do THAT again. Do you have any ideas we might use?”
There are many other facets to this whole concept, but the point is that you can make it work anywhere in any organization if you put the effort into it.
You might be thinking that it can’t work in a paramilitary organization like Fire and EMS, but I can tell you that it can work well. Of course when on the emergency scene we need to follow the chain of command, our SOP’s, and there is little time for counseling sessions on the fire ground. However, creating a group that knows their job well, and allowing them to do that job can create a lot less stress for the Leader as well as the group. It allows everybody to take ownership of their part of ‘the job’ and take pride in the result.
So why is this important enough for me to put out there for you to read? Well where I live, in the volunteer fire service, I have found that people don’t usually volunteer to work for, or with people that are poor leaders, bark orders, cover up their own mistakes, blame others, or generally are not enjoyable to work with. If they do join up, they leave pretty quickly when they learn how things go. The better the leaders, the better the organization runs and survives. I firmly believe that the lack of volunteers in our service is directly related to the Leaders that run it. We need to work on this as ‘JOB ONE’ until we get it figured out. Getting and keeping people will be much easier after that.
Leader’s who can work well as servants typically are looked upon as being “lucky” to have such a great crew. The truth is, they made that crew what it is, but prefer to let the crew get all the credit. After all, somewhere in that crew are several new Leaders learning how do it right.
For some proper and more thought provoking writing on leadership please go read Mick Mayers work over on Firehouse Zen where I have long been a fan and learned quite a bit. This piece has his take away messages from the loss of Medic999. It’s a good read and I sure would like to buy Mick a cup of coffee someday and share thoughts.
So now I am going to ask you if you’ve ever had a Leader that you enjoyed working with? This would be somebody that made you feel like part of a team and who appreciated your contribution. In short, it would be somebody you would want to emulate. Can you tell us what traits that person exhibited that you found worth emulating?

1 comment:

  1. Good article. I agree that as a good leader, your ability to succeed is directly related to ability to follow. If you get good people and put them in positions to create success, mentor them, give them the tools, and push them in the right direction, you will find yourself with happy subordinates who are willing to repeat the effort over and over again.

    Thanks for sharing.