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Servant Leadership and Authentic Conversations


Last week, we concluded our discussion on the Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership. This week, we begin our discussion on the lessons found in Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment by Jamie Showkeir and Maren Showkeir.
This book a fascinating read and I hope in the next few weeks you will glean valuable insight to use in your work and personal lives. Now, let’s get to it…

It is a shame that so many leaders spend their time pondering their right as leaders instead of their awesome responsibilities as leaders.

~ James C. Hunter, The Servant

The premise that many work environments possess the culture of parent-child mindset is born out of an organization’s desire to maintain control, consistency, and predictability as a strategy to manage its employees. However, today’s fast-paced global arena demands that organizations value diversity, flexibility, and innovation.
This philosophy, and its creator, Frederick Taylor (who was also ironically named, the Father of Scientific Management Theory), was based on the cynical view that people had to be constantly watched for work to get done.
Since the Industrial Revolution, organizations have been centered on the idea that adults won’t choose accountability on their own, so they have to be bribed and coerced into taking responsibility.
Things have to change.
Such a shift requires a new conversation.
This shift requires an authentic conversation.
To begin a new conversation, Servant-Leaders know that much has been said about the notion of deeply entrenched parent-child cultures (mind-sets) in the context of organizations and the workplace. Such is the case for many organizations.
What I mean by parent-child cultures is the conversational roles used routinely in organizations that establish and reinforce parent-child cultures.
For example, when employees are asked, “What is it like to work here?” and the response is, “This is a difficult place to work. The pace is hectic and demanding. Nothing ever changes and I feel like all they want me to do is show up and do what they say.”
Like the video I saw on Facebook this morning where a guy was videotaping a Burger King employee (who make $7.50 an hour) dumping used oil in the sewer drain. When asked why he was doing it, they guy replied, “Hey man, my boss told me to do it. I am just following orders.”
These examples point to parent-child like cultures that exist in organizations.
It is critical for organizations to move from a parent-child culture to an adult-adult culture so that organizations are equipped to survive in this highly technical, global, diverse, and ever-changing world.
The question I ask myself is who do organizations want to show up at work each day? Children, who need a long list of rules and regulations and constant oversight to be held accountable? Or Servant-Leaders who can, and choose to, hold themselves accountable for the greater good of the organization?
If we are to move from parent-child relationships at work, we have to get a sense of adult-to-adult relationships. There are critical agreements can be framed as rights and responsibilities. So, in this context, rights are what we claim, and responsibility is what we choose.
Claiming rights without responsibility is anarchy and responsibilities without rights is oppression. Both are necessary if organizations are to shift into an adult-to-adult relationships. For authentic conversations to begin, I thought about the following notions for organizations;

  • Employees and leaders must become the eyes and voice of the organization.
  • Employees and leaders bring an independent point of view and are open to others’ perspectives.
  • Employees and leaders are expected to raise the difficult issues.
  • Employees and leaders extend a spirit of goodwill in the endeavor.
  • Employees and leaders create business literacy in others.
  • Employees and leaders choose accountability for the success of the whole business.
  • Employees and leaders manage their morale, motivation, and commitment.
  • Employees and leaders communicate with everyone in every department about everything.

Starting a new conversation can be difficult. Disappointments will occur. But, Servant-Leaders don’t have to wait until for the entire organization to get on board to make this change. Organizations can change the culture at the moment, in any space. So, what would a new conversation in organizations sound like?

  • Honestly acknowledging the difficult issues and naming the harsh reality.
  • State your contribution to the difficult issue and acknowledge its harmful effects.
  • State the risks and acknowledge difficulties, including the possibility that things might not work out.
  • Frame choices about how we can engage the future without referring to the problems of the now.

Of course, to have new conversations that are authentic and transforming, clarity about one’s own intention is essential. This requires keen self-awareness and a willingness to be honest and vulnerable. Personal transformation comes first. It is the most important work of an emerging Servant-Leader.
To Authentic Conversations,
Dr. Crystal

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