For years now, servant leadership has been touted as a seminal model for modern day management. It’s easy to see why when you consider how a servant leader is characterized – as someone who “makes sure that other people’s highest priority needs are served first, who shares power, and who helps people perform as highly as possible.” What’s not to like about that?
Time to Move On
At the risk of spouting heresy, the notion of servant leadership – as affirming as it sounds – may have served its purpose and passed its prime as an enlightened form of workplace culture. The reason for its attraction is rooted in an elemental aversion to old-school leaders who tend to hoard power and act like dictators. Traditional command and control doesn’t work well for at least two obvious reasons. First, it often crushes the spirit of the workforce. Second, it usually kills the initiative to pursue any semblance of innovation and improvement.
Let’s accept for a moment that most people these days are reasonably clear on that reality, and few managers are hard-nosed power mongers. For the most part, they are trying to be more open and engaging – they just aren’t doing it particularly well. With today’s workforce, though, the solution to those shortcomings does NOT lie in helping managers be better at “serving” the people who report to them. It lies in abandoning the paternalistic notion that it’s a leader’s role to serve “lower level minions,” and shifting instead to a self-management model where leadership is shared with everyone serving one another as equal partners in a joint enterprise.
If that sounds too much like a socialist movement that’s out of step with hard-core capitalism, take a look at one company that has implemented shared leadership and self-management with astonishing success. Located in California, The Morning Star Company is not just the world’s largest manufacturer of bulk tomato products. When it comes to leadership and management methods, they are pace-setters and mold-breakers of the first order.
What’s the Difference?
For starters, the company has no managers. None. Nada. Nowhere to be found. All employees are interdependent parts of a genuinely collaborative venture that relies on each person taking individual responsibility for aligning his or her role with other co-workers and the needs of the overall business. Here’s how Morning Star describes its self-management system on the company website:
“We envision self-managing professionals who initiate communication and coordination of their activities with fellow colleagues, customers, suppliers and fellow industry participants, absent directives from others. For colleagues to find joy and excitement utilizing their unique talents and to weave those talents into activities which complement and strengthen fellow colleagues’ activities. And for colleagues to take personal responsibility and hold themselves accountable for achieving our Mission.”
Mighty highfalutin words, right? Sounds like the kind of thing a lot of companies aspiring to employ progressive management practices would claim about themselves. At Morning Star, though, it’s more than mere words. The difference is apparent in the structures by which the enterprise is organized and the methods by which it operates. It’s also apparent in the depth of employee sentiment about their company and the personal responsibility each person assumes for its success.
If you’d like to learn more about how Landes & Associates can help you implement systems and processes that foster greater shared leadership, click the link below for a short video clip.
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