"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Let the experts do their jobs

Every organization goes through it. The hiring process can be a grueling affair. You send out an announcement, screen through possibly hundreds of applications trying to weed through all the padded buzzwords and grandiloquence to select applicants to interview. Then follows possibly multiple rounds of interviews, trying to determine who truly has the right skills and experience you need to get the job done. You pick, of course, the best of the best and are confident they know what to do.

Why, then, do some managers feel the need to not only tell these top-notch, skilled individuals what to do, but how to do it? Sure, there’s a learning curve at first to understand particulars of the organization and the job.
Micromanagement is de-motivating. It takes away a person’s incentive to apply themselves, to use their skills in the best way they know how – because the boss is going to tell them the “right” way to do the job anyway.

It’s even worse when the employee has been doing their job well for years, has a proven track record of success, and a new manager comes in and assumes the employees need to be told what to do and how to do it.
Here’s a fresh idea. How about telling the employees what the mission is, what objective needs to be met, and then get out of the way and let them do it?

This is the basic principle behind the concept of servant leadership. A true leader understands that the role of leadership is to enable the work, not to “control” it.
The premise of servant leadership inverts the traditional organizational chart where the boss is at the top with a hierarchical structure below, decreasing in importance.

The servant leadership structure places the senior leader at the bottom, providing the foundation that supports the rest of the organization. He or she oversees the budgetary and other resources to make sure the staff has what they need, and focuses on removing barriers to success. They create an environment where people are encouraged to use their own initiative to accomplish the task instead of worrying about what the boss will say.
Most importantly, servant leaders let their expert staff do what they’re trained to do.

These concepts are not new. The principles go back centuries and are mentioned in Chinese writings from 5th century BC, in Islamic teachings, and in the Christian Bible.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Mark 10:43
I am sure that you, like me, have worked under a variety of managers throughout your career. Think back about those who you consider the best. Were they servant leaders?
Share your stories here.
If you want to know more about the modern movement in servant leadership, read some of the work of Robert K. Greenleaf, Daniel Goleman and Daniel H. Pink. I’ll be writing more about this topic in future blog posts. The concepts are part of the basis of many of my motivational leadership workshops, and I'll be speaking a bit about this in my joint keynote presentation with psychologist and emergent communications expert Tim Tinker on June 13 at the National Association of Government Communicators 2014 Communication School in Washington, DC.