What do you think of when you hear the term servant leadership? Do you picture a workplace culture where managers and direct reports work side by side, set goals, collaborate on projects, solve problems and celebrate victories together? Or do you picture a chaotic scene from a movie where the inmates are running the prison?
If you don’t understand servant leadership, it may be because you think people can’t lead and serve at the same time. But they can, if they recognize that there are two kinds of leadership involved in servant leadership: strategic and operational.
Strategic leadership has to do with vision and direction. It’s the leadership aspect of servant leadership. Leadership is about going somewhere. If you and your people don’t know where you are going, your leadership doesn’t matter. A compelling vision ensures everyone is going in the same direction. Once the organization has a compelling vision, they can set goals and define strategic initiatives that help people know what to focus on right now. The traditional hierarchical pyramid is effective for this part of servant leadership because, while the leader should involve experienced people in helping to shape direction, the ultimate responsibility remains with the leader and cannot be delegated to others.
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” –Theodore Hesburgh
As soon as people are clear on where they are going, the hierarchical pyramid is philosophically turned upside-down. Now the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for operational leadership, which has to do with implementation. The question now is: How do we live according to the vision and accomplish the establish goals? Implementation is the servant aspect of servant leadership. It includes policies, systems, and leader behaviors that flow from senior management to frontline employees—and make it possible for people in the organization to live according to the vision and values and accomplish short-term goals and initiatives.
Most of us are surrounded by more stress than ever before. It often starts the minute we get up as our devices feed us headlines. Our jobs require instant and continued results, and yesterday’s accomplishments seem to be remembered less and less.
I recently spoke with Ama Marston about her research into resilience. Ama is an internationally recognized leadership expert who has worked on five continents with global leaders. She is also the founder and CEO of Marston Consulting.
“And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore.” -Barbara Kingsolver
You start your new book with a gripping account of a car accident that impacted your lives. How did this awful accident impact your life’s work and result in this book?
For my mother, the process of having to recover from sever injuries and learn to walk again ultimately shaped her path to becoming a psychotherapist and stress expert. I was three at the time, but the accident also forged an even stronger lifetime bond between the two of us.
Decades later that led us to support one another while each of us separately faced the financial crisis as business owners, the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, family and health crises, etc. Through ongoing conversations we supported one another and also sought to better understand the convergence of personal, professional, and global turbulence. These challenges were something we were facing ourselves, but that we were each seeing in our respective professions. This was occurring in corporations and in the halls of the United Nations. It was on the minds of our clients and colleagues, global leaders, and our friends and family. So, while it took decades for the impacts of our car accident to come full circle, in some respect it planted a seed for a lifetime of learning about Transformative Resilience together and ultimately collaborating and writing Type R.
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” -Albert Einstein
What leadership qualities are important to today’s workforce?
The best leaders—the men and women people want to follow, not have to follow—are confident, authentic (genuine, worthy of trust, reliance and belief), and intrinsically powerful, which means they’re connected to a purpose greater than themselves.
“It’s choice, not chance, that determines your destiny.” -Jean Nidetch
The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, 723 grueling miles, is one of the most demanding sailing events anywhere. In 1998, an unexpected massive storm hit at the wrong time. Waves reaching eighty feet and winds hitting 105 mph pummeled the vessels. Australia launched the largest search and rescue operation in history. In the end, six sailors lost their lives. One hundred fifteen boats started the race, but only forty-four finished.
Leadership expert Dennis Perkins and co-author Jillian Murphy decided to write the untold story of the AFR Midnight Rambler, the 1998 Hobart race winner.
Lessons in teamwork: “Make the team the rock star.” -Dennis Perkins
Writing about The Ramblers was part of my own journey to find ways of helping leaders and teams deal with daunting challenges. I use stories of adventure and survival to communicate critical strategies that can be used by people in any challenging situation.
The approach began when I was teaching at Yale University, and I began thinking about my voice in the world of leadership and teamwork. I had my own experience with survival in the U.S. Marine Corps, but I believe that success with any significant team challenge has the same underlying ingredients. So I began researching stories of groups that had faced the limits of human endurance, a place I call The Edge.