This past weekend I ran 13.1 miles through the beautiful Fort Harrison State Park in the Indianapolis Marathon & Half Marathon. I was able to complete my third half-marathon, watch a good friend accomplish her first full marathon, and cheer my husband on in the last .2 of his sixth 26.2 journey. It was an amazing weekend full of friends, family, wellness, and inspiration.
One of the things that stood out to me the most from the weekend was not the beautiful fall-colored trees, or the runner dressed as Superman, or that laboring hill at mile 11. Nope, it was a woman who I encountered near the portalets. Yep, you read that right – my most memorable moment of the entire weekend happened near the porta potties! But this wasn’t just any woman, she was a
What is servant leadership?
I was lucky to be introduced to the philosophy of servant leadership relatively early in my career by one of my valued mentors. Since then, I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying, and trying my best to practice, this approach to leadership.
As described on the Robert K. Greenleaf’s Center for Servant Leadership website, “Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.” This phrase was first officially coined by Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, published in 1970. In this book, Greenleaf describes this philosophy as follows:
The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
Okay…Back to the Woman at the Portalets
The morning of the race was cold and rainy. As always, there were loooong lines at the 30 or so portalets set up right by the start line. Hundreds of runners lined up in the pouring rain, with each breath looking like little puffs of smoke in the foggy, gray early morning hours.
About 25 people-deep, there I stood. All of a sudden I felt the rain stop. I looked up, and I had an umbrella over my head. I heard a voice say, “You looked like you could use this.” There behind me was a woman in her 40s or 50s with a huge smile on her face and an over-sized golf umbrella in her hand. She was there with her daughter, who was running the marathon that morning. After covering me for a few minutes, she then jumped over to the line next to me where a runner in her 60s or 70s stood, in shorts, shivering in the cold waiting in line. She stood and covered her.
I finally made it through the line and was in a rush to get to the start, as the horn had already blown and the runners were off. But wait – I only had one glove. What happened to my other glove??? I can’t run in this weather without gloves – I will freeze! I hear another voice behind me, “I have it…I have it!” I turned around and saw that woman again. She had my glove in her hand. She saw me drop it in the grass as I was running towards the race. “Here you go honey – good luck!”
Key Principles of Servant Leadership
There are 10 key principles of servant leadership. I am not going to touch on each one, but I wanted to share three of them that this woman exuded on that cold, rainy race morning.
1. Awareness: Servant leaders are very self-aware, but also keenly aware of the surrounding environment and the needs of those around them. As many of the runners stood in that rainy portalet line, heads down, or looking straight forward visualizing their upcoming individual performances that day, this woman was focused on the people around her and their needs. Servant leaders are observant and positively act on those outwardly-focused observations.
2. Commitment to the Growth of People: Servant leaders are committed to helping the people around them grow – personally, professionally, spiritually. One way they can do this is by providing the resources and/or tools needed for success – like the umbrella…and the glove. I would have never finished that race without that glove. I might not have even ever started.
3. Building Community: Servant leaders build a sense of community amongst teams, organizations, or any group they’re a part of. That woman helped bring the running community together that morning by being a positively contagious energy during somewhat intimidating race day conditions. It was because of her that complete strangers in my line began interacting, laughing, and connecting.
I’m not sure who that woman was or if she’ll maybe stumble upon this post, but I want to say THANK YOU for your servant leadership that morning. I will do my best to model your behavior in my everyday life. These characteristics are directly applicable in any setting, so let’s all commit to serving others FIRST and leading SECOND – at home, at work, and in our communities.
How has the role of a manager changed?
The role of a manger in today’s world is far different than what it used to be even just a decade ago. It’s no longer about assigning tasks, tracking attendance, and delivering a top-down authoritative style to get your team to produce results. This transformation is largely due to the type of workforce we have seen emerge in the second decade of the 21st century. Today’s workforce
- seeks meaning in their work – it’s about more than a paycheck.
- wants to be involved in decision making. They don’t like hierarchical layers, so come on out of that stuffy board room.
- interacts more and more naturally every day in a social and collaborative online environment.
- will “follow” you not because of a title, but rather because you are trusted, respected, and communicate a compelling vision.
- is fairly capable of “managing” themselves, in the traditional sense of the word (and prefers that autonomy).
- is smart and driven.
So, where does that leave managers? Well, in a very critical role actually. Just as the workforce has evolved, the competencies of organizational managers and leaders have evolved as well. Take the following list for example…a decade ago, we didn’t hear much about the following terms in a business context:
- Emotional intelligence
- Employee engagement
- Virtual teams
- Talent management
- Results-oriented work environments (ROWE)
- Social enterprise
In today’s world, we need to focus more on the function of management versus the role of a manager. The new(er) primary function of management is to create an environment in which employees thrive, accomplish personal and professional growth objectives, and therefore inherently contribute positive results to an organization’s bottom line. In short, the function of management is to drive individual and team performance, which drives organizational performance. You do this by putting on your coach, counselor (and sometime psychologist!) hats.
Focus on the 3 R’s
Time to put your coach hat on! Any runners out there? I’m an avid runner; it’s my Zen and just about the only thing in my life that keeps me sane. It has recently become very clear to me that the 3 R’s I adhere to in my running world translate directly into 3 R’s of effective management for today’s workforce. So, here they are…
Take time to REFLECT.
As I prepared for my long run this past weekend, I reflected on the following: How did last week’s run go – Mileage? Elevation? Time of day? Traffic? Ankle brace? Pre/Post nutrition?
You will similarly want to reflect with your team on past performance, and for two main reasons:
1. To learn from the past – Identify what went well so you can repeat it and what didn’t go so well so you don’t make the same mistake twice. Don’t just look at individual roles and departments, but look more broadly across the entire organization to learn from other teams as well.
2. To build team spirit – Why does it feel so good to gather with friends and family over the holidays and share old stories, or REFLECT on times gone by? Because you’re creating shared meaning through storytelling, building camaraderie, and inadvertently solidifying the strength in your relationships with one another.
Make sure your team REFUELs.
When I run long distances, I strap a water bottle around my waist and take a sip every mile or so. In addition, I’ll eat a GU pack every 5 or 6 miles.
Keep your eyes and ears open, and be aware of when your employees need “refueling”…whether it be something quick in short intervals (the water sips each mile) or something a bit more substantial (the GU pack). Encourage them to refuel by creating an environment that makes this possible. Below are a few things they might need:
- A day at home after travel
- A walk outside during that rough 3:00 hour
- An early Friday Happy Hour and some social time with colleagues
- A new environment – maybe they’d like to take their laptop to a coffee shop for the rest of the day. Sometimes all we need to refuel is a change of scenery.
- A quick trip to the gym
- A vacation completely unplugged – don’t bother them and work with them in advance to put a plan in place to cover everything while they’re gone
- Sleep! A late start in the morning is very valuable every now and then.
- Sabbatical – sometimes a longer-term refueling is needed.
It’s important to Model the Way and demonstrate that their leader refuels too. This makes it acceptable. One of the first things you can do to help promote an environment that allows people to refuel is to visibly show your team when YOU refuel. Try some of the things above yourself, and your team will naturally follow.
REWARD your team for their achievements.
For those of you who know me well, you know about my obsession with ice cream. I absolutely eat a Dairy Queen blizzard, Sonic Blast, or UDF hot fudge sundae the night of every long run. Why? Because I earned it, and I love it. I look forward to it, and it feels so good when I get it. I even think about it during my long runs (no judging!), and it provides me with motivation to keep going.
Rewards in the workplace should work the same way. Whether it’s through something as small as a handwritten thank-you note, or something as complex and formal as compensation (and everything in between), make sure you are providing rewards and recognition in a timely manner when you observe behaviors that you would like to see continue.
Check out another Core Chat post for an easy-read on 3 Ways to Make Recognition Meaningful.
It’s not easy, but there’s a starting point for everything
All of this talk about the three R’s is a little more complicated than assigning tasks and tracking attendance. Your role as a manager in the 21st century is no easy feat. You’re dealing with human psychology and trying to motivate certain behaviors so that your organization will see repeat performances week after week, month after month, and year after year.
One place to start as you further develop yourself as a manger is to Reflect with your team on the past, Refuel your team for the work that lies ahead, and Reward positive behaviors all along the way.
I’d love to hear the strategies you use to accomplish the 3 R’s, so please share by commenting below!