Leadership Notes #55 – The Servant Organization

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

We’ve spent several Notes speaking of servant leadership, what it means and its importance. Is your organization, whether crew, VOA or the like, conducting itself such that it supports the concept of servant leadership? That is, has it created a culture within the group to support servant leadership. If not, it’s not being a “servant organization”. A way to assess this is to use Jim Laub’s Organizational Leadership Assessment (OLA). (www.olagroup.com). My Fraternity, which uses servant leadership, teaching the OLA concept, but does so as an organization model for our chapters to follow, called the “Servant Chapter Model”.

As an assessment model, the OLA gives each organization a rating of 1 to 6, which indicates its organization health. This assessment looks at the members of the organization, the leaders, the team, the culture, and the outcome. Culture means the culture of the organization. How people are treated in the organization is due to its culture. It’s sort of self perpetuating. People are treated a certain way due to the culture, and they learn to treat others that way, which perpetuates the culture. Outcome is about what the future holds for the organization. Will it succeed or will it go under? Level 1 is a toxic organization, members are not valued, true leadership is absent, people are out for themselves, there is a lack of integrity, and the outlook for the organization is grim. Unless something changes, it’s going under. Level 2 is a poor organization. It’s a little better then the toxic organization. It’s autocratic, with members not valued, with a lack of teamwork. Again, the outcome is not good, but better then the toxic org.

Level 3 is a limited organization. People are valued for what they can do, not for who they are. Leadership is of a negative paternalistic type, where the focus is on making members do what they are told (like a naughty child might be). Level 4 is a moderate organization. It’s better than level 4, with the leadership being a positive paternalistic type, where people are treated like a cared-for child, but still like a child. Teamwork exists, but often it’s used as one team against another. In both these types of organizations, while they will keep many good people, the “best and brightest” will go elsewhere (they don’t like being treated like a child, even a cared-for child).

Level 5 is an excellent organization. Most people feel valued, leadership is shared and people are encouraged to be leaders and be empowered. There is a high level of community feeling in the organization, and this is a servant-leader organization that will attract the “best and brightest”. Level 6 is an optimal organization. It’s almost the perfect version of the level 5 organization. Outlook for both these types are excellent.

One of the pages at the site explains these 6 levels. Trying taking a look at the descriptions and see if your group fits into one of them. It would also be interesting to compare the levels show in the concept of tribal leadership (see the previous Notes on that).

The heart of the OLA is six key areas:

• Display Authenticity
• Value People
• Develop People
• Build Community
• Provide Leadership
• Share Leadership

And organizations are assessed against these 6 key areas to determine their level.

Display Authenticity is about leaders in the organization being open, real, approachable and accountable to others. Most leaders too often try to protect themselves from mistakes; they refuse to be open and accountable. Leaders need to be willing to learn. This also encourages other to step up and be a leader, if they know they will be allowed to make mistakes (if this lead to them being better leaders). And honesty and integrity should be their hallmark. In my Fraternity, we say that this point is about being yourself and do the right thing.

Value People is about how the organization should view the people within it: as someone to be valued and developed by the leaders, not used by them for their own ends. My fraternity says this is about empowering others (a concept we covered in a previous Notes). Some of the main points of this is to serve others first (there’s that servant leadership concept again). To believe and trust in people, so that they may do their best. And finally, that leaders should listen receptively (also known as active listening).

Develop People again goes to that concept of servant leaders developing the people they lead, to better individuals and in many cases, into leaders in their own right (who may even take that leaders place). Healthy organizations seek out such people to develop, unhealthy organizations shun or drive away such people. Leaders should provide opportunities for learning and being leaders (give someone the chance to lead in their own right, maybe for an even). Leaders model behaviors for others to follow. They do the right thing so that others know how to do it. And leaders encourage and affirm. They praise good work, recognize accomplishments; catch others doing the right thing. In my Fraternity we say that we ask members to serve the organization in various ways, either elected or appointed.

Build Community is about how the organization works together, creating a community of people. This is why many times one speaks of the “culture” of an organization, which can be a good culture (if it encourages and nurtures the right things) or a bad culture (if it doesn’t, or encourages the wrong things). And people want this. They want to feel they are part of the `right team’, not stuck in a group they don’t want to be part of. As part of this, organizations should encourage the building of relationships between members of the group. The organization should also value the differences in people. Too often the different ones are driven out of the organization, and the organization loses, because they lose the talent of those they drove out. And people need to work collaboratively. Having different groups or individuals within the organization competing does no one good. My Fraternity says of this point that we develop and continue to develop brotherhood thru action.

Provide Leadership is about the need for leadership. Leaders should have a bias for action; they should take action, not a back seat. Leadership should be about Initiative, Influence and Impact. The organization should be future oriented (remember the importance of the Vision back in an early Notes?). Leaders should take initiative, when too often they don’t. And goals should be clarified. (hence the importance of goal setting, another Notes topic). In my Fraternity, we say this is about how opportunity exists for members to be formal leaders.

Share Leadership again goes to that concept of servant leadership where follows can be leaders, and hence leaders need to share leadership with others. That Vision that the organization has must be something shared with all, so that it’s something all are working to make real. Else it’s meaningless. Power must be shared. This can be at different levels, and within levels. And status must be shared. Leadership is not position, status or prestige. My Fraternity says that all members should be encouraged to be leaders, either formal or informal.

Further, my Fraternity ties these 6 key areas to our 3 cardinal principles and the concepts of ethics, morals, and values.

• Leadership & morals- Provide Leadership & Share Leadership
• Friendship & ethics- Value People & Develop People
• Service & values- Build Community & Display Authenticity

As noted, it’s a big concept. I’ve given a high level overview of this. In my Fraternity, we spend about 30 minutes (of a 3 hour course) on the “Servant Chapter Model”, this after spending about 30-40 minutes on servant leadership. There are no books on it; I can only recommend that people check out the website for more information. Again, take a look at the 6 organizational levels. See if you can figure out where your crew or ship is. Or your district or council VOA. One thing my Fraternity does in our training is challenge our members to implement this model in our chapters. So I would ask Venturers how they might see this being implemented in their crews or their VOAs.

There is this video that introduces the concept: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqai-5bjjns