The 4 Legs of Servant Leaders

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A chair will not stand if one or more legs are missing. A Servant leader will not lead effectively if one or more of the legs are missing. 

Leg 1: The Heart of a Leader

Genuine Servant leadership starts from the heart. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 NIV. Everything we do flows from our hearts. The way we treat others is a reflection of our hearts. Our empathy flows from our hearts. 

Leaders that have fallen in history are leaders without a heart. These are leaders driven by greed, self-centeredness, arrogance. These eventually lead to their downfall. The bigger the ego, the higher the fall. 

Protect your heart from pride and fear. Pride blinds leaders into thinking that they know everything. It makes them stop listening to outside views and advice. Prideful leaders end up judging an idea based on the person saying it instead of its merit. Prideful leaders don’t even bother asking for the views of people several layers below them. That is unfortunate since these people are the ones closest to the ground. Our rank and file better understand clients and markets than the corporate suits sitting in their executive offices. 

Fear, on the other hand, distorts the reality of the leader. Fear of losing his seat will cause a leader to make the wrong decisions. Fear of looking silly in the public’s eyes will make a leader please the people instead of doing what is right. Fear fuels arrogance.

I am not ashamed to say that I admire our Pasig City Major Vico Sotto. Ask any of Pasig’s residents; they will attest that he is a Leader with a heart. Mayor Vico is a walking, talking example of a true Servant Leader. A Leader with a big heart to serve his followers.

Leg 2: The Mind of a Leader

Servant leadership has a cerebral aspect to it. A great leader can craft a clear, concise vision that is bigger than the company they lead. They draw an image that paints a picture of a better society. The company they are responsible for is only a player in the mission for this greater good. 

In this mission, the Servant leaders identify the values their employees need to exhibit. The leadership of the company then exemplifies these values. These values are part of the screening process for new hires. These values are part of the leadership appraisal process.

Servant Leaders are clear about their purpose, their reason for being. They embrace their purpose and live up to it. They also understand that employees also have a reason for being. 

Leg 3: The Behavior of a Leader

Psychological safety is a significant concern of a Servant leader. They understand that their behavior affects the way people behave. Establishing psychological safety in the workplace encourages others to voice out their ideas. People are not afraid to make a mistake. Employees have the confidence to debate topics with higher-ups without fear of reprisal. 

It does not matter what a leader says; it’s his behavior that counts. You hear stories of leaders saying that their people are their most important asset yet fail to behave accordingly. When times get tough, the first budget they cut is the training budget. Stories about loyal employees devoting years of their life to the company but not recognized or rewarded are commonplace. Instead, it’s the employees that suck up to management that climbs the corporate ladder. 

Servant leaders spend 80% of their time developing people, selecting the right people, providing constructive feedback. They don’t spend 80% of their time criticizing their staff, micromanaging their leaders. They don’t bring down people; they bring out the best in them. Servant leaders do not pass or fail people. Servant leaders help people excel. 

Servant leaders understand that they cannot build great companies on their own. It’s arrogance for a leader to say he drove a company to success. A great leader develops great people. It’s great people that build great companies. 

Leg 4: The Habits of a Leader

Servant leaders make a consistent, courageous decision. They have the habit of sticking to what’s right and not what’s popular. A Servant leader has formed the correct habits from the first three legs. They don’t have to think about being empathetic or not; They are automatically empathetic. It’s second nature to them. 

It is typical for them to ask questions when they do not understand something. They don’t have to hesitate for fear of looking fooling. Servant leaders are fueled with humility day-in, day-out. 

Servant leaders are the same at home, in the office, with friends, with strangers. They are genuine. Their values do not change even in the heat of problems. The Vision of a Servant Leader is always top of mind. 

A Servant leader’s gaze is always on the greater good. They are reliable. They are consistent.

Stay safe,

Jordan Imutan

The 4 Stages of Growth

This is a prelude article to a four-part series I will be writing. The next article will be called ‘The four building blocks of servant leadership.’ Before we dive into the four building blocks of servant leadership let us first talk about the stages of growth. It is a simple framework I learned after working with a McKinsey consultant a few years ago.

In a nutshell, when we learn something new, we have to go through four basic steps or stages. The first two stages fall under the responsibility of the person teaching us. The last two stages are our accountability.

The first stage is when we are ‘unconsciously unskilled’ of the new competency we are learning. For example, we are learning how to drive for the very first time. As you enter the vehicle with your instructor, you don’t know what you don’t know. Also, you do not possess the necessary driving skills at this point.

In the second stage, we become ‘consciously unskilled’ of driving. We start to learn the fundamentals of driving. We learn how to start the engine, safely change lanes, keep our distance from the car in front of us, park, and so on. We are now knowledgeable of what it takes to drive safely. However, we are not yet skilled drivers. This is where the responsibility of the teacher ends. From here onward, the student is now accountable for the next two stages.

The student now makes a choice or a mind-shift. The student makes a decision to practice the skill or forget about it. This is the same case in mentoring. Students can learn what it needs to be a great and effective leader or they just don’t bother. Dave Jones, my former direct manager, used to say ‘you can lead a horse to water but you cannot force it to drink.’

The choice to practice the knowledge acquired helps the student develop the new skill. Thus, the third step. The student is now ‘consciously skilled.’ The student has driving know-how and made the choice to hone the skill through practice.

One day the student will reach the final stage ‘unconsciously skilled.’ He no longer has to think about the skill. It has become muscle memory. It’s the same again in leadership development.

For instance, great leaders are great listeners. In the beginning, the leader would have to consciously keep his opinion to himself and let the people in the room share their thoughts. It is always good practice for the highest-ranking person in the room to speak last. This is contrary to a leader’s instinct. They are usually in a hurry to discuss or resolve the issue at hand. They are the first to speak. When this happens, most of the people will either agree with the leader or just keep their opinions to themselves. This is definitely not a collaborative or healthy environment.

I had the privilege to work with a great leader that allows the people in the room to voice their opinions first. Faisal Sakkaf showed everyone that their view is welcomed and respected. Speaking last also gave Faisal the opportunity to hear a possible gem or two from the group. Possibly, there is an idea that comes out of the discussion that is better than his original view. He can then recalibrate his views as the discussion ensues.

Think back about leadership lessons you learned or read about in the past. How far in, the four stages, did you bring the skill? Were you persistent enough to push it through the third and fourth stages?

Stay safe,
Jordan Imutan

Great leaders are driven by a vision for the greater good

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If you do not have a properly communicated clear vision, then what do you have? How do you lead others without a vision. A secret vision does not count. A vision that stays in the executive boardroom does not mean a thing.

A vision crafted for hanging on hallways and staircases does not count. Those are simply. decors. These are visions so generic they might as well be drafted by a grade school student. Wait, maybe a grade school student can articulate it better. A seventh-grade student must be able to comprehend your vision. If they cannot, then it’s just a show of your range of vocabulary. A true vision is clear, self-explanatory, easily understood, easily recalled, and compelling.

A true vision is never self-serving. A true vision is written for the greater good of society. The company merely works to help achieve that greater good. That’s their mission. Disney’s vision ‘To make people happy’ is meant for the greater good of people outside the company. It’s not to be the biggest, the brightest, the grandest. Such vision statements are self-serving. Such vision is driven by the pride of its leadership. There is humility in a true vision statement.

“To create a better every day life for the many people.” is Ikeas vision. They did not write to be the biggest furniture company in the world. It was bout about themselves. Other companies can participate in the vision “to create a better every day life for the many people.” Ikea sees itself as a company that has joined the movement.

“Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” is Microsoft’s vision. Similar to Ikea, the vision has is not about the company. It’s about helping others to achieve more. They are participants in a movement.

The list goes on. None of these visions is self-serving.
“Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” Nike.
“To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Tesla
“To be a company that inspires and fulfills your curiosity.” Sony
“To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Facebook
“A just world without poverty.” Oxfam

A true vision drives employees to the greater good. A true vision helps employees understand why and how their work matters. They are able to connect their work to the greater good.

Going to work for companies like these give meaning to an employee’s life. They are proud to work for these companies. There is a sense of fulfillment, a sense of purpose. There is a sense of satisfaction.

I had the chance to work with many companies back in the Philippines. Many have visions that are mere words written on walls. There are companies that have no vision at all. Then, there are those whose vision is to be the biggest company in their industry. Such companies are driven purely by profits. They only care about their shareholders. These companies do not even invest in the development of their people. It was seen as an unnecessary cost.

You can tell if companies, like these, do not have a clear compelling vision. Ask their HR Manager about their attrition rates. They will have a higher than the normal number of people leaving the company than industry standards.

You cannot blame the employees for leaving. Who would want to work for a company whose sole focus is raising shareholder value? If you are not a shareholder then why should that matter to you? Leaders often forget that it’s great people that build great companies. However, great people are drawn by great vision. Teamwork is harnessed by a great vision. They are driven by a worthy purpose.

What is your vision? Is your vision written for the greater good? Is your vision easy to recall? Is your vision easy to understand? If your vision compelling?

Stay safe,

Jordan Imutan