Back At It!


It’s been a while.9654565403_b0f501bafa_b1

I began this blog a few years ago to share my thoughts on servant leadership and to spur a discussion of how we can use the “heart of a servant” to transform our teams and impact people.

It’ s not that I am some kind of perfect example – I have plenty of blind spots and challenges in leadership.

So I hold up my thoughts and experiences as a starting point – a (hopefully) interesting perspective on leadership as it plays out in modern organizations.

And now…I am back at it.  I had a new team and new organization to get to know, to build up, to understand.  It was my top priority and for a while it took all I had to give.

Take a look at some of my previous posts  on the basics of servant leadership and leadership development…

Tapping into the Wisdom of the Ages – Making the Golden Rule a Foundation of Your Leadership

5 Steps to Better Listening (and more Effective Leadership)

Essential Qualities of a Leader: A Belief You Really, Absolutely Must Have for Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership in the Real World: Do They Believe in You and Your Vision?

Please comment so we can have a discussion.  The more the merrier.

And pass this blog along, share with others, post in forums – let’s get the word out.




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Servant Leadership in the Real World: Do They Believe in You and Your Vision?

red tree blogLet’s review:   servant leadership is not about you, it is about your team, the people you serve.  This feels good – humility, focusing on others, trusting, empowering.  But here is the rub, the unfortunate reality:  if your team does not understand and value what you bring, and does not believe in your vision – then your influence weakens and your impact drains away.

Servant leadership, like all forms of leadership, draws its strength and vitality from the engagement of followers.  As admirable as being a “servant” might be,  it does not by itself motivate or inspire or engage your team.  You need a vision, one that captures the unique value you bring to the team.  Yes, you need to focus on Number One, your strengths, your values, your beliefs – and pull together a cohesive vision.

In short, to be an effective servant  leader, you have to be a bit self-centered.

But, do not despair…your vision does not have to be mega-grand, like bringing world peace or abolishing hunger.  In fact, for the purposes of effective, practical leadership, your vision is really a view of the destination of the team – and here being practical and “doable” works really well.  While you’re at it, consider how progress toward that vision would be measured…

For example…as head of a marketing team, your vision might be to lift your company’s brand to the most recognized brand in its market, as measured by surveys of industry leaders.

As lead of a boy scout group, your vision might be to create a rich outdoor-skills oriented program, so engaging to the Scouts that it doubles the number of boys reaching Eagle Scout within 5 years.

Unless you are the top dog, there are higher level, more encompassing visions cast above, so you will  need to ensure alignment with the larger team you are part of.  Nonetheless,  your leadership depends on the team knowing and believing in what you particularly and specially bring to your organization, to your team, to their lives.

Something that will serve them in a compelling way.


Related Content:

1.  Servant Leadership Starts with a Clear Vision  (

2. The Seven Leadership Qualities of Great Leaders (






Servant Leadership 101: One Powerful Habit Effective Servant Leaders Share

8417804534Have you  witnessed  how  much time really effective leaders spend building relationships?  It is a continuous effort, a constant part of what they do – asking questions, listening, trying to understand what people are thinking, looking into what is happening from the perspective of others.

Leaders with the most inspired, engaged, and effective organizations  spend most of their time building relationships with and among people.  They naturally break down barriers and connect silos (see my post about silos here).

What is really going on here?  Every conversation, every new link made, every experience shared, every new person engaged builds the health of the network.  What network, you say?  The communication and relationship links across functional borders, across physical and geographic separation.   There is nothing profound about saying that people who are great “connectors” make it tons easier to get things done.  Great leaders within complex organizations intentionally and actively build links and connections – targeting the connections that most powerfully affect the way work is done, the quality of the work experience, the effectiveness by which the team accomplishes the mission.

I have often used the word “enabling” and “catalyst” to describe the impact of a servant leader.  How is such impact achieved?  By acting to enhance the way the human networks in their world work.

Imagine the improvement in influence and effect you would have if you constantly focused on improving the way the people in your life connect, share, and bond.  For many, it would be a transformative change.  Every moment spent in that state would build the effectiveness of others.

Try it out.  Go beyond the surface level and find out what is going on in the world of folks you meet and know.  Look to make a connection, to offer to help.

I have been inspired recently by Steve Beecham, a master networker and motivational speaker.  Take a look at Steve Beecham’s Bassackwards Business:  The Power of Helping Without Hustling.  His website is

And let me know what you think.

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1.  What Are the Most Important Things Great Leaders Do? (

2.  How Leaders Create and Use Networks (

3.  Six Rules of Leadership Networking (leading

Essential Qualities of a Leader: Passion for the Truth, and a Powerful Bias that Stands in the Way

4696352143Pursuing the truth is essential for servant leadership.

What do I mean, “truth” ?  The truth for our purposes here consists of the available facts, and the identification of the actual cause(s) of  event(s) or circumstance(s).  It is this second part – figuring out the causes, that requires leaps of reason that get us into trouble.  But more on that in a minute.

So… it’s often hard to figure out what the absolute truth of a situation is – we operate mostly with incomplete information, and causes can be obscured by confusing signals.  But a leader has to be passionate, and energetic, and persistent about seeking the truth in a situation.   Getting at the knowable facts, pursuing the best available idea of what cause and effect are, is critical to good leadership decisions and effective action.

For the skeptics in the crowd, think on this example, drawn from my recent past:

A project being developed by an otherwise capable team is late.  Really late.  Why is that, and what should be done?   Actions must  to be taken that  make things better, and the choice of what actions to take must be based on an accurate judgment about the causes of the project delay.  This seems obvious – leaders that take steps that make things worse, or create change that has no effect, are not really serving the team or themselves at all, are they?

By the way, the leaders in this situation are not necessarily those formally holding management titles.  Highly effective action can be driven from any level.

Yet there is a powerful bias that stands in our way.  The bias is that we are going to most easily see the evidence that confirms our pre-conceived ideas about why the project is late.  Based on nothing more than guesses clouded by emotion and loosely based on past experience, we will already have a theory about the cause, and we will tend to notice more the evidence that  favors the  pre-conceived notion.

So let’s say that we have had some conflict with a key person on the project team, and they have in another setting proven to be an obstacle to progress.  We may suspect (or expect!) that they are a holding the team back.  So here is where the bias kicks in,  the confirmation bias.  The questions we ask, and the information we are most sensitive to, will center on this person and his/her  impact on the project.  And we very well might find things that disturb us in those answers, that seem to confirm our opinion.  So we more intensely focus on our theory.

We often hear the term, “rush to judgment” in prominent court cases.  Confirmation bias is a powerful force in police investigations, and history is full of examples of innocent people convicted by a building confirmation bias that pulls in the police, the witnesses, and ultimately the jury.

Back to our example:  asked what might make a project late, project managers might point to common factors such as unclear requirements, changes to project scope, unexpected/unanticipated technology challenges, and a host of issues shown over time to cause most  project delays.  But the confirmation bias has already been at work, and a few specific individuals who are seen as the source of the delay are removed from the project team.

How does it work in this case?   Not very well.  The delay lengthens even more, though eventually the team delivers a high quality product.

Here are some steps that will reduce the confirmation bias and help a servant leader come closer to the truth:

1.  Put a list together of the facts.  No causes, not theories.   The verifiable facts.  Involve the team and the knowledgeable experts.  This will serve as an invaluable reference for decision-making.

2.  Develop multiple  possible causes  from these facts.  The more the better.  Involve  folks not influenced by inside knowledge of the team or the project.

3.  Consider the opposite:  if there is a developing theory, or as a cause starts to surface, specifically identify an opposing theory and invest time to see if it is true.  Example:  A new product is not selling well, and the theory is developing that it is not a compelling product.  Consider the opposite: it is compelling, but we are not succeeding at communicating its benefits/the price is too high/etc.

4.  The truth might be surprising, so communication is critical.  It is a tough role to be the bearer of a surprising truth, one that counters conventional ideas and a developing confirmation bias.  Be prepared to clearly and effectively and persistently communicate why you believe another theory (cause) is closer to the truth.

5.  Take action.  Effective action is the reason for all this trouble about figuring out causes, the truth, etc.  Serve your team by taking the steps that actually make things better.

Here is quote from the intriguing blog  You are Not So Smart  that brings this home:  “Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.”

The confirmation bias is ever-present.  So develop the habit of looking elsewhere for the truth.  You might be led back to your pre-conceived ideas.  But the journey will often take you in surprising directions.

5 Steps to Better Listening (and more Effective Leadership)

Listening matters.


In fact, listening is one of the most essential disciplines of great leaders.  Note that I used the word “disciplines”, not the word “skills”.  Listening is a discipline – it is only done through constant practice, continuous attention.  You have to choose to do it.

Last time you tried to listen, did an internal voice or rogue thought distract you?  Did you jump ahead of the person speaking and begin to think of a response?  Was your ” listening” more about debate and persuasion – and less about understanding?

I have my own examples of poor listening and the rush to debate:  A few weeks back, a team member stopped by my office to express a concern that the company was on a wrong course with a particular customer, that what we were offering them was not what they needed.  For sure, he expressed his thought in a  criticizing way.  And immediately – as soon as I saw where he was headed – I  closed off my mind to his point and began to compose a response.  Each of us left the conversation irritated and unpersuaded.  Weeks later, it became clear that he was right.  The customer told us we weren’t deliver what they needed, and they went with someone else.  Arrgh.

What does the research say?  Put simply, listening correlates to effective leadership.

Try these 5 tips to improve your listening – start today!

1.  Commit to understanding, not just hearing.  Decide that the person you are talking to has something important to say.  Remind yourself that you could be wrong, or misunderstand, or not even know anything about this issue.  Really try to understand it.  

2.  Ignore the distractions.  The phone.  The text message or email pleading for your attention.  Give the person you are talking to your attention and respect.

3.   Maintain eye contact.   Do you really believe that someone is listening if they are looking at or doing something else?  People really cannot multitask at all – so if you want to understand someone, look at them.

4.  Let them speak!  Never interrupt, or launch into debate.  If you are tempted, see #1 above.

5.  Ask questions to confirm.  Put that inner voice, the one that so often distracts you, to work formulating questions that will help confirm your understanding.  Only when the person has paused in their speaking, should you speak.  And then first confirm your understanding.

And…never, ever use a follow up question as a means of turning around or distorting what was said.  What do I mean?  A team member comes to you with a problem and you tell them, “So what you are saying is that this problem is insurmountable, that the task is too hard for you.” You might as well kick them in the face, or call them a nasty name, for all the disrespect it shows.

Makes sense, right?  Just emulate the great listeners in your life.  That’s all.  You will build credibilty, trust, and influence.  Of course it is tough.  And incredibly rewarding.

What do You think?  I’m listening…..

Essential Qualities of a Leader: A Belief You Really, Absolutely Must Have for Servant Leadership

6918240903I am going to say something, and I want you to pay careful attention to your reaction.  How you react will tell us alot about how painful this is going to be.

Here it is:   You are not always right.  In fact, you are probably often wrong.  You might even be hopelessly self-deceived.

How did you feel when you read that?  Did you immediately bristle with offense, or frown with skepticism?  Did you defenses go up?  If so – we have a long way to go in leadership development.

I don’t want to hear your defense.  I am not interested in stories about how smart you are, or how you rose to leadership by being good at what you do.

If you believe you are always or even mostly right, I can tell you that servant leadership is a long, long way away.

For the belief that that answer lies outside us is what drives us to listen.  It’s what drives us to collaborate.  It’s what drives us to seek the expertise and voice of others.  It’s the engine of our desire to learn and to help others learn.   It is the energy behind our search for the truth in our leadership and decision-making.

It the root of humility and a servant attitude.

The truth is many of us have work to do here.  Admitting that we are often wrong or incomplete in our thoughts or decisions is not the kind of thing that comes easily or quickly or feels natural.

So starting at your very next meeting/conversation/event, tell yourself this one thing:  I do not have all the answers.

You may be surprised how quickly it transforms your leadership and effectiveness.