Chasing A Moving Target
I have been hearing a lot about leadership burnout at the front line and mid-manager levels among my clients and stakeholders. While doing some research on this topic, one article really stood out to me regarding the evolution of leading teams and I want to dig into that article with you this month. I’ve never been a fan of the term “servant leadership;” maybe that’s why the article resonated with me so much. While some view that style of leadership as simply not being authoritarian, I’ve seen the down side of what that style often degrades into: people pleasing and never saying no. Throughout my career, “empowered leadership,” or “coaching leadership” made more sense to me and felt more authentic. The latter develops people while focusing on a greater mission or purpose. “Servant Leadership” or what it commonly degrades to, focuses only on the people, leaving the leader in a perpetual state of self-sacrifice. Don’t we need both people engagement AND team outcomes in order to achieve organizational success?
Fun fact: the philosophy of “servant leadership” was the brain child of Robert Greenleaf and made its debut in an essay he wrote in 1970. How much has our world changed since 1970? Think about it. In what ways are the demands higher on leaders now than in the 70’s? How often are you without your cell phone? Likely never. In 1970 the world was blissfully disconnected…no emails…no texts…no social media. Let’s dive in to what leadership approach could or should replace trying to make employees happy, because that is a moving target that you will never consistently hit.
Embracing Purposeful Leadership
The original thesis of Servant Leadership was much needed at the time and enabled many leaders to shift from being self-serving to serving others (their team). But like all improvement efforts, it’s time to do better. In recent years, leaders striving to embrace Servant Leadership have suffered burnout, the feeling of having the ‘servant well’ being bone dry. Most leaders who truly enjoy leadership also possess a high degree of “heart energy,” meaning they genuinely love to serve and support others. It is a great energy to have unless there are no boundaries. Without boundaries, this perspective can be over extended. What once felt great now feels draining and even debilitating. Even worse, those leaders then beat themselves up, thinking that they are somehow bad leaders when in fact, they are simply trying to pump from that dry well.
In the HBR article, How to Be A Purpose-Driven Leader, authors McLeod & Lotardo outline how to EVOLVE to that empowered or coaching leadership style I mentioned earlier. They call it Noble-Purpose Leadership (NPL). Whether you use my terminology or theirs, the new focus is the same, “to positively impact their constituents (versus serving them).” This may seem like semantics but it is MUCH MORE than a shifting of words.
Rather than chasing the “make customers/employees happy” target, or saying yes to everything because that’s what serving is, or working yourself into a grave because you’re busy doing your job and your team’s…the recognition that your role as a leader is to make an impact is a huge game changer. It is the foundation of true empowerment, collaboration, and optimal team performance!
3 Ways to Change Your Leadership Approach
Interactions. Avoid creating team dependency by asking better, empowering, questions. Ever feel like the more you help your team, the more help they need? Instill independent thought and responsibility by making these subtle tweaks in your questions. Rather than asking, “what help/support do you need from me,” ask “what do you need to be successful in accomplishing our/the goal?”
Decision Making. Rather than aligning decisions around making employees and stakeholders happy or trying to please everyone which may result in a leader shying away from making the tough (and right) decisions…align decisions around purpose. Instead of asking people how they feel about something, ask them “what are your thoughts on this,” or “what impact do you see this having?” Rallying around a purpose, ideally the team/group’s purpose or the company’s purpose, focuses everyone’s attention on the big goal rather than individual feelings.
Coaching. Incumbent to every leader is an obligation, ideally a passion, for developing others. Unfortunately, another consequence of burned out leaders chasing Servant Leadership is that they have zero time to develop others and zero time for their own self-care. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that ignoring self-care and failing to develop others is a formula for being consistently exhausted, sick, and ineffective. Two ways you can rescue yourself and invest in others is to first lead yourself well. Ensure that your mindset is where it needs to be in every moment. Elevate! Second, pay attention to your high and mid performers and mentor them. Invest in them, recognize them.
At the core of Noble-Purpose Leadership or Empowered Leadership is collaboration and a unified effort to accomplish goals, to truly make a difference. It’s time to do better!
Sources: Harvard Business Review (HBR); The Coaching Habit (Michael Bungay Stanier)
Leadership is very simply a function of influencing self and others. Every time you interact with someone, you are either lifting them up or you are tearing them down. In other words, they walk away from you feeling better or feeling worse. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to your energy level and your mindset. You can fake a smile and you can use friendly words but the energy you emit will betray you every time. You cannot fake your energy. One way to help ensure that your mindset is where it needs to be is to reflect on this John Maxwell quote:
People may forget what you say, but they never forget how you make them feel!
In his book, The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication, Maxwell outlines things you can do to add value to people. Now, you may be thinking…hold up Diane…you just told me that serving others is a fast track to burnout…how can I be a purposeful or empowered leader AND give value to others at the same time?! Ahhhh, Padawan, it takes practice but you CAN empower others while adding value to your interactions and relationships. You do this by “going slow to go fast,” which means pay attention to people in the moment. Value them by truly paying attention to them.
Maxwell’s 6 Ways to Add Value
1. Focus on sowing, not reaping. Demonstrate caring.
2. Be aware that how you view things is how you do things. This speaks directly to your mindset!
3. Put a “10” on people’s heads. Treat everyone with dignity.
4. Lift your likability level. This is speaking to your credibility and reputation; people will listen to you IF they like what you stand for.
5. Express disappointment when you can’t add value to people. Admit when you fall short of giving value to someone, they will appreciate that you want more for them.
6. Run a different race. Being an empowered or purposeful leader doesn’t mean that you are NOT serving others; it means that you are being purposeful in doing it with the intention to give value rather than taking away their initiative and responsibility by doing their work for them!
||Focus on sowing, not reaping. Demonstrate caring.
||Be aware that how you view things is how you do things. This speaks directly to your mindset!
||Put a “10” on people’s heads. Treat everyone with dignity.
||Lift your likability level. This is speaking to your credibility and reputation; people will listen to you IF they like what you stand for.
||Express disappointment when you can’t add value to people. Admit when you fall short of giving value to someone, they will appreciate that you want more for them.
||Run a different race. Being an empowered or purposeful leader doesn’t mean that you are NOT serving others; it means that you are being purposeful in doing it with the intention to give value rather than taking away their initiative and responsibility by doing their work for them!
This is why moving away from Servant Leadership is an evolution, not a revolution. The evolution is to shift focus to the greater impact to be made as a whole while purposefully adding value to others. Revolution would be to stop serving all together! See the distinction? Michael Bungay Stanier addresses this distinction well, empowered or coaching leadership will “help you regain focus so you and your team can do the work that has real impact and so that you can direct your time, energy, and resources to solving the challenges that make a difference.” In today’s matrixed work environment where everyone is tethered to the workplace electronically, this evolution is vital for those who want to excel!
Self-Care is Not Selfish
Considering that I hated running as a West Point cadet, it’s really quite hilarious that I’ve completed 9 marathons, 27+ half-marathons, and last weekend, a “shadow march-back” of 14 miles. That march-back wasn’t in my plans until I saw a social media post calling out to all “Old Grads” to run, walk, crawl, ride 14 miles in support of the Class of 2027 that would be doing a full gear march from their summer training site back to the barracks area at West Point. I hadn’t trained for it but I’m in good shape and I figured a run/walk combo shouldn’t be too bad. Ha! Yes, the last 4 miles were not fun but I got it done and didn’t need a medic.
So how is it that I went from hating running to loving it and why do I make time for exercise in general, no matter what my schedule is? There are many aspects to that answer but the bottom line is that staying fit enables me to perform at my best as a leader. It sets my vibe, it refuels my confidence and it gives me stories to draw upon when life gets hard.
One of the worst things leaders can do is put themselves last out of a mistaken belief that leaders should sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Bull-pucky as they say in Texas! To BE your best for your family, for your team, you must BE your best for yourself.
If you take vacation but your kids see you working on your laptop or phone instead of giving them your full attention, what message does that send? If you consistently have to buy bigger clothes or can’t play kick ball with your kids or grandkids, what are they learning from you? When you’re short tempered at work because you didn’t sleep well, how does that impact your team’s performance? Self-care is the answer; mindset, nutrition, and fitness.
Whether it’s running, walking, skating, skiing, cycling, pickle ball, golf, tennis, martial arts, or gym workouts…get moving! Ditch diets and start making healthier food choices; find a nutrition plan that you can live with! Begin and end each day with gratitude. Life is a gift, something to embrace and fully experience. If you find yourself just going through the motions and trying to “just survive” the work day, please schedule a free consultation with me. Whether you contract with me or not, that coaching session is a first step toward running your life instead of letting life run you!
Dare to BE Different!