Teaming, intentional leadership, Millennials, engagement, global, elimination of performance appraisals…
What is going on in the private sector?
What happened to, “I am the boss. I told you to do it. Now, do it.?”
Well, for one thing, people today won’t work for a supervisor that directs that way. I hesitate to use the word, “leader,” here because, in 2018, being dictatorial is not synonymous with leadership. The other, equally important, issue is that it simply does not make good business sense, as in profit and loss.
I recently came across a couple articles that speak to this very topic: Blake Morgan’s piece for Forbes, “How A Humble Culture and Self-Deprecating CEO Fuels This $130M Tire Company,” and a Harvard Business Review article by Dan Cable titled “How Humble Leadership Really Works.”
Cable tries to make a case that, in today’s world, emphasizing outcomes and control in a hard-edged way is not effective. It doesn’t achieve the intended outcome, and it leads to employee negativity, lack of innovation and withholding discretionary effort. He suggests an altogether different approach – serving employees.
Servant leaders demonstrate humility, courage and insight and benefit from the expertise of others. And through this approach, these leaders are able to create a culture of learning.
With our penchant for learning agility, at EASI•Consult®, we are all about creating that culture.
As I read some of Cable’s suggestions for how to engage the minds and hearts of one food delivery company’s employees, I was struck by all the connections those suggestions had to learning agility. Rather than “tell” employees, he asked how he could help them deliver excellent customer service. That is the Feedback Seeking dimension of learning agility.
Initially, the drivers were reluctant to volunteer anything, but one suggested an idea and it was embraced. The leader sought drivers’ ideas, which is Collaborating, another learning agility dimension. The driver who volunteered an idea demonstrated Interpersonal Risk Taking. The driver brought up the issue and, in doing so, took a risk.
Not all the ideas were successful. That is the definition of the Experimenting dimension of learning agility – trying different approaches and learning by trial and error.
As Blake Morgan details in her Forbes piece, Larry Sutton, CEO of RNR Tire Express, wasn’t trying to fix an organization that was experiencing poor results. He took over the business with a servant leader philosophy. Initially, it was probably difficult for the employees to adjust.
Sutton used an inverted version of the managerial pyramid – essentially taking the normal top down approach and reversing it. The CEO serves a senior manager, who in turn serves the managers who serve the employees. Sutton said it created a “serve spirit” instead of a “service spirit.” This allows employees to feel confident in trying new things (as long as they don’t hurt the brand) and the feeling of being served and valued ultimately trickles down to the customers.
One thing I didn’t agree with was, when Sutton noticed a dirty bathroom in one location, he picked up a mop and cleaned it. The intended message, of course, is that he is not above doing any task he asks his people to do. But there needs to be accountability in the system and doing someone else’s work doesn’t establish that accountability.
He wants his employees to rally around improving the customer experience. But in demonstrating customer service as the leader for his people, he should also reinforce them doing the same for their customers.
If you have never tried to improve customer service before, demonstrating it will require learning agility. Flexibility is required to accept an inverted management structure and make it work. Once store owners begin to get ideas from customers about ways they think you could improve customer service, this would demonstrate the learning agility dimension of experimenting.
We started this article by looking at the alternate to a directive leadership approach. This is often referred to as servant leadership. Whatever you call it, the basic idea is to seek employee’s input and listen. You demonstrate you have heard what you were told when you try it. The unintended consequence of this more participative approach is that it breeds learning agility.
We know that learning agility promotes engagement, something critical to millennials. An environment that encourages innovation and risk taking is going to have to contend with people’s ideas and employees using discretionary effort. Those are nice problems to have. It will be a talent magnet because other people will be attracted to that kind of environment.
It’s interesting how a slight change in how you approach and treat people can have such a positive impact organizationally at both the emotional and financial levels.
David Hoff is the chief operation officer and executive vice president for leadership development at EASI•Consult®. EASI•Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visitwww.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.comor call 800.922.EASI