SERVANTS AND LEADERS

by Mark Fisher

Viktor Frankl is a smart motherfucker.

If you’ve never read Man’s Search for Meaning, that would be worthwhile. Frankl’s book is a classic with brilliant  insights into the human experience.

One of the premises Frankl karate chops in the throat is that happiness can be pursued directly. In fact, it’s always the byproduct of pursuing a worthy goal, generally a cause greater than yourself.

This indirect result has always reminded me of the counter-intuitiveness of “servant leadership.” Servant Leadership is a leadership paradigm created by Robert K. Greenleaf, developed during his 38 years at AT&T. Greenleaf believed a leader’s job is first and foremost to be a servant. In servant leadership, the focus of the leader is on helping his or her team achieve self-actualization.

There’s some debate as to the appropriateness of this model for some business situations. For instance, you can argue this isn’t the best approach for for-profit business in highly competitive industries. My perspective is that this ALWAYS has to be priority one for any leader. Just  as Frankl submits happiness is best pursed indirectly, I believe organizational objectives are best pursued indirectly.

Of course there needs to be clarity around what a business is trying to do, and there needs to be clear guidelines and expectations for individuals. In fact, you can only help people develop IF you hold them accountable and help demand their best. But I think you’ll get subpar results if the leader doesn’t aggressively pursue being a servant of the team. Unreasonable business success can only ensue as a byproduct of this pursuit.

I don’t think there any secrets in the world; on some level, most people know when you’re full of shit. If you don’t reeeeally give a fuck about your team as humans first, it’s obvious. And if you don’t give a shit about them, why should they ever do more than the exact job description?

Wanna know the best way to have a mediocre, struggling business? Create a team of people delivering on their exact job description. Boriiiing.

You’ll occasionally see situations where employees overcome lack of support from leadership. They’re moved by a compelling mission, and/ or commitment to the clients, and/ or perhaps, or an intrinsic desire for excellence, but they are achieving in spite of the business’s leadership. This. Is. Tragic.

If you want to win at business you need fucking MAGIC, particularly in competitive industries. You need people willing to go above and beyond job descriptions. You can of course pay and discipline people into bare minimums, but I bet that’s exhausting as it is unsuccessful.

Magic > Tragic

If you want your business to thrive, serve the people who are doing the day to day work, and commit to their holistic life success.

Examples:

  • Providing opportunities for advancement (professional and financial)
  • Giving clear goals (so success is clear and therefore possible)
  • Providing a meaningful mission
  • Open communication
  • A willingness to get to know people personally so they can be assisted in their broader life pursuits
  • A commitment to ongoing education and development
  • Be open to their feedback as to how you can support them better

There are many ways this can play out as action, but it starts with giving a shit and a desire to serve.

Frankl was right. Some things are best pursued indirectly.

I’d most love to hear from people who have been in extreme situations. What are some ways where you feel support is lacking for you at work? Any examples of a leader going above and beyond to support you? I’d particularly love some example of the good and bad here.  So please chime in here and let’s exchange some ideas, m’kay?

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