In late September 2018, NBC began televising “New Amsterdam,” a medical drama inspired by Dr. Eric Manheimer’s memoir, “Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital,” and his 15 years as medical director there. The show stars Ryan Eggold as Dr. Max Goodwin, the institution’s newest medical director, who sets out to reduce bureaucracy and focus on exceptional patient care. Dr. Goodwin frequently asks “How can I help?” and then invariably provides the necessary assistance to the hospital staff. While the show provides the typical TV drama involving relationships and heroics, it also provides a firsthand look at servant leadership.
Robert Greenleaf wrote and released “Servant Leadership” in 1977; it is based on these ten principles: listening, empathy, healing (holistic, not physical), awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. 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. (www.greenleaf.org)
Dr. Goodwin’s “How can I help?” approach is contrary to the more common “This is what we will do” leadership mandate and it also contradicts the coaching I received throughout my career to approach leadership with a solution, not a problem. While there are many merits to this latter approach, I am left to ponder how different things would have been had I had a senior leader ask me how they could provide me assistance. Undoubtedly many, if not all, of these leaders would have gladly provided assistance had they been asked but due to the prevailing leadership norms, the organizations’ culture, and the stigma of not being able to resolve one’s own challenges I never used a potentially valuable asset.
As leadership trends away from the traditional authoritative model to a supportive one, organizations will also experience a progression towards greater diversity amongst leaders and more non-traditional organization structures. Diversity will especially come in the form of more female and non-white corporate executives and CEOs. This evolution will come about not only through startups but naturally within established organizations for they will want to leverage the best talent and resources available to them rather than complying with affirmative action or feeling the need to “level the playing field.” Due to technology, remote offices, and the growth of matrixed organizational structures, companies will be less likely to feature the traditional silo top-down structures. Most assuredly the prevalence of cross-functional teams comprised of members residing in various locations will continue to grow. The changes stemming from diversity and structure will necessitate that leadership styles evolve.
Leadership comes in many different forms and layers. While research, publications and common thought may mostly focus on executive leadership, we are actually impacted more by the leadership styles provided by those we have the most direct contact with: our parents, teachers, coaches, immediate supervisor, project leaders, etc. One’s leadership style is continually formed and influenced over time and experience. Surely one’s ever evolving leadership style adapts the better leadership traits they have seen while discarding the less desirable traits. In addition, one’s leadership style must be adaptive to each individual we influence because a “one size fits all” approach is not as successful as situational leadership.
Situational leadership is a leadership style that was developed and popularized by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey. It refers to when the leader or manager must adjust their style to fit the development level of those they are trying to influence. The style may change continually to meet the needs of others based on the situation. (https://smallbusiness.chron.com/define-situational-leadership-2976.html) What motivates one person may not necessarily have the same effect on another, thus adaptation is required.
What are the characteristics that a leader must possess in order to be successful? A leader’s goal is to keep their followers motivated, guided and engaged; therefore, besides adapting the principles identified by Greenleaf in “Servant Leadership,” leaders (all leaders, not just CEOs) need to: establish trust, treat people with respect, lead by example, effectively and continually communicate, set direction, and navigate change.
Trust. People will follow leaders that they trust; and trust is something that can only be earned. To establish trust, leaders must listen intently and be empathic. Truly understanding one’s point of view or situation will quickly build meaningful and lasting relationships. “The Outward Mindset” by the Arbinger Institute provides examples and simple yet profound guidance and tools, enabling individuals and organizations to shift their culture to one that enables them to build trust through empathy thus allowing them to improve performance, spark collaboration, and accelerate innovation. (https://arbingerinstitute.com)
Respect. Successful leaders create an environment where each individual feels valued and respected. When respect is attained, engagement will follow. Leaders that treat people with genuine respect will be rewarded with followers that are more responsive, trustworthy and engaged. Like trust, respect must be earned. People are respectful when they listen attentively, are accountable, are kind, and through the absence of disrespectful and rude behaviors. Respect can’t be faked so one must be humble and open-minded in order to truly appreciate each individual for who they are. Respect is not earned by appeasing everyone all the time but through open and honest dialogue and actions.
Lead by example. As always, leaders must lead by example. Living the “Do as I say, not as I do” mantra will quickly lose the trust and respect of your followers. Leaders must abide by the organization’s values, uphold the highest level of ethics, and continually demonstrate the behaviors expected of the team, organization, etc. Egalitarianism, the philosophy that all people are equal in status and worth, may be a growing trend within many organizations for it will help alleviate the barriers created by the hierarchical structure. If leaders can embrace equality by abiding by the same rules and conditions as the rest of their team this will reduce the perception of entitlement and foster greater teamwork.
Communicate. The ability to openly and honestly communicate will contribute to the effectiveness of one’s leadership. Followers should be provided frequent communication regarding all aspects of the organization. Leaders must also acknowledge good work and provide constructive feedback on a timely basis; surprises during the end of year performance review must be avoided at all costs. Respect will be earned by communicating both good and bad news and truthfully responding “I don’t know” when appropriate. If sensitive information cannot be shared, a leader can gain respect by simply explaining that while certain information is known, it must remain confidential at this time. Leaders must also adapt their communication style to suit their audience and therefore may need to utilize multiple methods.
Direction. Leaders must have the ability to set a clear direction in order to ensure that the right things are being done. The goals and objective of an organization, of a project, etc., should be clearly defined and communicated; doing so will allow a team to work together to achieve the desired result. Without direction and guidance the organization will face much uncertainty, conflict and a lack of confidence in leadership. Consequently it is imperative that leaders hold themselves accountable for their decisions. Setting direction is not always simple so when mistakes occur, leadership must show resilience, and act and communicate immediately and effectively in addition to providing new direction.
Change. Change is inevitable so leaders need to provide guidance and must remain actively involved in change initiatives. New ideas, processes, products, etc., can lead to innovations, however many change initiatives fail due to poor leadership and improper change management. Typically ideas and efforts don’t fail because they are ill conceived but rather because there was a lack of acceptance by the people affected by the change. While some people easily adapt to change, others may perceive it as a threat; a threat to their job, their security, the level of influence or power, etc. Leaders need to ensure that those who will be impacted by a change are actively involved with the change process and/or regularly informed of the changes to take place.
A successful leader needs to know their strengths and weaknesses; doing so will help them surround themselves with an effective and diverse team. A high performing team enables the collective whole to accomplish much more than the individuals working separately. The collaboration will inevitably lead to mutual respective amongst the individuals and a collective feeling of importance. A good leader also provides the team with inspiration and takes great pride in their accomplishments, more so than their own accomplishments. When a team or individual faces a challenge, the leader can step in and ask “How can I help?” The results will yield success, respect, and stronger relationships. Q
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