Karate Kid of Star Wars?
Updated: Aug 7, 2019
On July 29th Simon Sinek and Ken Blanchard exchanged their ideas on “Servant Leadership in the 21st Century” in the presence of a virtual audience of about 16.000 people. It was heartwarming to see them side by side on a couch playfully enjoying each other’s company. They zoomed in on a number of aspects concerning Servant-Leadership. For the sake of completeness, this is a leadership philosophy, in which the leader is servant of the growth of others and self, in order for people to find purpose and organisations to book sustainable results, hence contributing to sustainable development of our society overall.
Answering the question “customers or employees first? “ , they both agreed on the fact that successful companies put their employees first: treating them well, training and empowering them. Consequently these happy employees take care of the external customers that bring in the money!
Despite the fact that most companies put employee satisfaction high on the agenda, only few of them really succeed ! According to Blanchard, low employee satisfaction is mostly a symptom of poor leadership. Servant leadership asks a different mindset from the leaders. Many leaders have a fixed mindset and believe that their character is a given. They trust their intelligence , their qualities and experience which have taken them this far on the corporate ladder. However the skills to lead and inspire people differ from the ones needed for delivering projects or execute operational tasks. Blanchard calls it an evolution from the task-oriented self to the reflective self.
Both Sinek and Blanchard agree: leadership is a set of skills that can be acquired through training and coaching. However it requires a growth mindset: “mistakes” are labeled as opportunities for learning, frustration is tolerated as potential for growth, not- knowing as a possibility to broaden one’s horizon. Poor performing leaders need to be trained and coached and deserve the chance to grow in their roles, provided that they are coachable. When asked about some inspirational movies Blanchard refers to the “Karate kid” as a beautiful example of growth from dependancy to independancy. Sinek -being a huge fan of Star Wars- loves when learning leads to transformation. It was endearing to see them become like little kids at the movies again whilst giving these examples of growth in personal leadership.
A servant leader is great at creating an environment, in which learning is safe whilst embracing dialogue. Much has been said and written about the millenials, they clearly want different things than the babyboomers. They look for satisfaction and contribution, they embrace variation and continuous learning, … also, they value openness, dialogue and want to be treated as equals. Servant leadership seems to be the right answer to all of this. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be led by a servant leader?
Sinek and Blanchard were asked which skill they could develop some more, and they seem to share the same challenge: active listening! Especially Blanchard, having written over 60 books, admits that he has so much to tell, that keeping silent remains tough for him. He says “I ‘m humble about that”. Sinek then complimented by quoting a definition of humility he heard once as “being open to the ideas of others”.
Bottom line: servant leadership leads to happier employees, provides in better results in a climate of trust, initiative, dialogue and continuous learning. To me that seems to be what companies are desperately looking for. To get there we need that mind-shift. For now, I keep dreaming about more humility with leaders, politicians and academics…