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February 4, 2016

Are leaders equipped to serve?

Ian's Morning Musing imageMy profiling of Donald Trump and Rob Ford last week highlighted the disillusionment of many with respect to politicians. The Trump-less presidential debate last week was another case in point. It was interesting to watch the Republican candidates try to justify their current points of view when shown video clips of themselves holding a polar opposite view in the past. It is not lost on much of the population that this was because the current popular view supports the flip-flop.

What should one believe? It seems to be the animated annoyance with government mismanagement, voiced by Trump and Ford, that resonates with people, albeit substance seems to be subservient to imagery.

Political leaders exist to serve the needs of the people and we expect them to be accountable because politicians serve us. But leaders inside organizations are not voted into power, so is it reasonable for employees to expect/demand the same level of leadership, given the fact that they are being paid to provide a service?

I ask the question simply because engagement scores continue to confound us, so is it possible that we have created unrealistic expectations of what leaders can actually accomplish? As a society, it feels like we have gradually slid into a negative mindset, where too few things appear good enough.

This week’s SCNetwork/HRPS executive book summary showcases Broadcasting Happiness – the Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change. As an example, the author is an advocate of transformative journalism – journalists should choose optimistic, emotional stories; they should tell the whole story and engage the public. We are reminded that negativity can be contagious and can affect a person’s stress levels, health and productivity; a company culture can deteriorate if the naysayers feed off each other. The crux of the book is to capitalize on positivity and to generate contagious optimism. As Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, once said, “the learner always begins by finding fault, but the scholar sees the positive merit in everything.”

If goes without saying that our emotions drive the way we think and act. Our corporate cultures are driven by two components. The cognitive culture involves the intellectually accepted norms, values and assumptions, such as being customer-focused, or innovative. In a Harvard Business Review article, Barsade and O’Neill suggest there is an emotional culture, too, which is embodied by the shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work. Dealing with employees’ emotions can be complex work, and even though we expect some level of competence at the leader level, many have difficulty dealing with this. As humans, sometimes dealing with a spouse’s emotions can be challenging, so imagine having to emotionally contend with a staff of 20. It should not come as a surprise that some leaders find this too daunting a task to master, and some resort to informing us that they are not social workers and employees are paid to fulfill their duties – whether it is an emotionally good, or bad, day. This perceived lack of empathy can strain any relationship and the point of friction can sometimes lie between employees expecting it, and leaders viewing it as irrelevant. If we believe employees leave managers, not organizations, then every single relationship between a manager and his/her employee is pivotal as it relates to engagement, commitment, happiness, fun, creativity, and so on.

Steve Carell has observed, “I think in most relationships that have problems, there’s fault on both sides. And in order for it to work, there has to be some common ground that’s shared. And it’s not just one person making amends.” It’s finding the common ground, which is the understanding between two parties that is important in forging great relationships. With understanding, there is empathy and appreciation for each person’s situation. A foundation of respect, and even trust, can begin.

So it will not surprise you that there are companies that fully comprehend the importance of emotion and realize that it fills their organizations, every minute of every day. Many of you already know that companies like PepsiCo, Southwest Airlines and Zappos list love, or caring, among their corporate values. It reminds us of the concept of servant leadership. It also makes me recall a 1970s Robert Greenleaf essay, where he said, “a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” A servant leader is driven by the desire to serve higher powers (politicians, religious ministers), whereas another might become a leader first, driven by the attributes of power, prestige, wealth, etc.

What type of leaders do you nurture in your organization?

Leadership is our topic next week (February 10th) at SCNetwork. Vince Molinaro will address the topic “Are you enabling mediocre leadership in your company?”

If this is the case in your organization, Vince will share ways to address it.

Is this the case in your organization?
Join the conversation on LinkedIn

About the AuthorIan Hendry headshopt
Ian Hendry is the president of the Strategic Capability Network. In his Morning Musings, he provides insight on issues facing today’s business leaders and looks at subject matter related to upcoming SCNetwork events. He is also VP HR & Administration at Interac Association.


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