By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Dean, Wallace E. Boston School of Business
Many organizations are diligently exploring ways to reinvent themselves during the so-called interim economy and determine what types of infrastructure will work in the “new norm.”
What are the components of the new infrastructure? In my opinion, it is the relationship among leaders, employees and customers. What type of environment and culture must develop to go to the next level of doing business? In this article, I am going to focus on leadership.
2021 Could Be the Year That Servant Leadership Re-Emerges
One of my favorite authors and one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers, Dr. Adam Grant, takes an old concept and puts a new spin on it. He says 2021 could be the year that servant leadership re-emerges as a style to give organizations a competitive edge.
Grant: We Need More Servant Leaders and More Discerning Followers
Dr. Grant tweeted three powerful statements on November 3, 2018. His thoughts were very forward-looking but impossible for some to grasp. However, we have just lived through a year when we were challenged to think outside the box to survive and to be open to concepts that seemed unattainable in the past.
What were those three statements and how did I perceive them?
“We need more servant leaders, but we also need more discerning followers,” Dr. Grant tweeted. He defines servant leaders as one of his foundations: Servant leaders are givers, not takers. Servant leaders will put the needs of others ahead of their own. I, too, believe that their primary function should be to build the team to fulfill its mission.
Most Companies Have an Infrastructure That Rewards Individual Contributions Over Teamwork and Collaboration
However, as a former HR professional, I would say that most companies have built an infrastructure (i.e., classification and compensation system) that rewards individual contributions over teamwork and collaboration. Therefore, it is easy for even the most well-intentioned leader to be caught up in furthering his or her career versus the team’s empowerment and development.
For the follower employees to be discerning, they need to be given the power and space to nurture that mindset. In summary, we need our current system that encourages leaders to be givers to move ahead.
We Should Judge Leaders by the Values They Enact
“Judge leaders by the values they enact, not the values they claim,” Dr. Grant also explained. We tend to define people by what is on their resumes, which states their accomplishments.
However, their actions do not always reflect how they achieved those accomplishments. Too often, organizations will be caught up with the result versus how the person achieved it. What type of character and integrity do the leaders display? How do they treat their employees? Do they have a vision that will allow them to get to the finish line with integrity?
Integrity Is the Most Valuable Leadership Trait
Warren Buffet once spoke about the traits he looks for when hiring a person. He said, “We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.”
In other words, integrity is the most valuable trait. Without it, the other two characteristics will not have the desired effect. In essence, we hear what a leader says, but can we see it by what he does?
The Pandemic Taught Us That Past Accomplishments Shouldn’t Always Be Future Rewards
“When they fail to live up to their principles or yours, choose civil disobedience over blind loyalty,” was Dr. Grant’s third statement. Can their past accomplishments be their future rewards? The pandemic has taught us that we cannot make that assumption.
The Pandemic Has Forced Leadership to Navigate Uncharted Waters
Our current leaders cannot rely solely on their past achievements because we are in uncharted waters where what has worked in the past may not work in the present or future. Some of our leaders will not be able to live up to past promises, but not because they lack integrity and direction. Rather, they do not know what they do not know; that is the type of environment that the coronavirus pandemic has created.
Therefore, leaders must be willing to be vulnerable and allow the employees to collaborate to determine how to chart the course. If a leader wants employees to be loyal, she should include them in the process and enable them to share their thoughts instead of being the sole leader. An aspect of vulnerability is the acceptance that a leader does not have all of the answers. The future leader recognizes that “people are not the most critical resource; they are the company,” says LinkedIn News editor Scott Olster.
Today’s Servant Leaders Will Need to Become Macromanagers
According to Dr. Grant, we can count on servant leaders to put the employees’ interests first. These leaders will be comfortable with empowering their workforce to support the organization’s mission. They will be creative and will play an active role in deciding what work environment will be conducive to meet the mission and its objectives.
Servant leaders are not micromanagers who monitor an employee’s every move to believe that the work is being done. These leaders will be called macromanagers, coaches with the skillset to rally employees around the organization’s mission.