Category Archives: Servant Leadership

Structures Drive Poor Financial Adviser Behaviour

A recent ASIC Report that identified an “Unacceptable level of failure” by the life insurance industry was caused by conscious or unconscious systemic structures that drove the behaviour of the Financial Advisers.

Gary Ryan, Organisations That Matter, Yes For SuccessThe report goes on to say, “Our surveillance results indicate that many advisers . . . may prioritise their own interests in earning commission income ahead of the interests of the client in getting good quality advice.”

Systems Thinking teaches us that organisational structures (rules, policies, procedures and physical structures such as office layouts) influence the behaviour of the humans who operate in that system. The concept is known as Structures Drive Behaviour.

The ASIC Report found that the system provides upfront commissions for Financial Advisers in 82% of cases. The commissions could amount to around 100% of the annual premium and are therefore very lucrative. Unfortunately ASIC has discovered that 96% of the poor advice provided by Financial Advisers was when the adviser was being paid an upfront commission. There appears to be a direct link between the structure of upfront commissions and the provision of poor advice.

Leaders have a responsibility for understanding the behaviours that their structures will drive. I am not saying the leaders in the life insurance industry here in Australia understood the consequences of the structures they put in place because I don’t know.

However, as part of the characteristic of foresight, a leader should consider the intended and unintended consequences of the rules, policies and procedures that they put in place. If you work in a sales environment and you want your sales team members to share information with each other, a commission structures that is 100% based on individual performance is unlikely to drive the sort of information sharing behaviour that you desire. Instead you need to create a system (with input from your sales team members) that provides commissions for both individual and team based behaviours and performance.

Creating a service counter that is only wide enough for one person will create queues. In turn these can block thoroughfares. If you don’t want these consequences then you have to consider how you can physically design and staff your service counter to minimise queues, or you need to design a queuing system that will reduce the clogging of your thoroughfare.

A common error that leaders make is when their team members behave or perform in ways that the leader doesn’t like, the leader blames their people. Systems Thinking teaches a different perspective.

First review the structures that might be causing the behaviours and/or performance results that you don’t like. You can identify when a systemic structure is operating when you have different people come in and out of a system but the behaviours and/or performance outcomes remain the same. Often (but not always) changes to your rules, policies, procedures and/or physical structures will change the behaviours and poor performance results that you are seeing.

Of course, humans are humans and it is possible to have the best possible structures in place and humans can choose to ignore them and do their own thing. But this is a rarity compared to a norm.

If you are experiencing poor behaviour and/or performance results from your team, consider assessing the systemic structures that may be influencing these outcomes before blaming your people. After all, who wants to end up being named in a government report for leading an industry that generates poor outcomes for its customers?

How a Servant Leader Manages Time

Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA International which is arguably the most profitable business in the world, believed strongly in Servant Leadership. He believed that Servant Leaders manage their time very differently to the hierarchical, top down style of leaders that he abhorred.

Gary Ryan, Organisations That Matter, Servant leadership
Dee Hock

So how did Dee Hock believe that a Servant Leader should spend their time?

Fifty percent of your time should be spent managing yourself. This is how you manage your own continuous development, how you challenge your own thinking, how you manage your response to someone who says something that you disagree with, how you manage yourself when things go wrong and so on. Managing yourself is an activity that co-exists with everything else that you do with your time which is why the percentage is so high.

Twenty five percent of your time should be spent managing those who have formal authority over you. This is the classic ‘managing up’. You do this by challenging them, influencing them, providing them with data, respectfully questioning them, articulating possible futures grounded in purpose and values, being true to the organisation’s vision, mission and values among other methods.

Twenty percent of your time should be spent managing those over whom you have no authority, and they have no authority over you. These are your peers and colleagues. You manage these people in a similar way to how you manage up. Once again you do this by challenging them, influencing them, providing them with data, respectfully questioning them, articulating possible futures grounded in purpose and values, being true to the organisation’s vision, mission and values among other methods.

How much time is left for managing those over whom you have formal authority?

Five percent. Yes, that is correct. Five percent of your time.

How could you be an effective leader and only spend five percent of your time managing those people who directly report to you?” I hear you ask.

As Dee Hock says all you have to do is teach them the same model for how they should manage their time. That way they will be spending 25 percent of their time managing you. When they come to you with issues you will then know why they are coming and give them your undivided attention.

When I teach people these principles they are often stunned at these percentages. “They don’t seem right. I’m accountable for my team. I just can’t see how this could work!” are the rebukes I receive.

It is true that this is a different way of thinking and seeing the world and your role as a leader. But if it can work for the man who created the most profitable business in the world, then why can’t it work for you?

If you would like to explore how Servant Leadership can be introduced to your organisation please contact me here.

Gary Ryan enables organisations, leaders and talented professionals to move Beyond Being Good.

Buy1GIVE1 - Transaction Based Giving

The Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader

In 1970 Robert K Greenleaf first published his essay, The Servant as Leader. This essay catalysed a world-wide movement for Servant Leadership. I was fortunate to have been exposed to the essay and many other resources associated with Servant Leadership from 1997. As such I have educated my clients about the power of being a Servant Leader ever since.

Throughout the essay, Greenleaf references a set of characteristics that need to exist for a leader to be a true servant. In total there are ten characteristics and each of them are explained below.

An example of a company that practices Servant Leadership
An example of a company that practices Servant Leadership

Listening

True leadership starts with the ability to listen for understanding. This is different to listening for argument. When you listen for understanding you are genuinely interested in understanding where the other is coming from. This does not mean that you have to agree with their perspective, just that you are genuinely interested in understanding it. When you listen for argument, you are listening from the perspective of finding holes in another’s arguments so that you can shoot them down. You are right and they are wrong. Period. A Servant Leader works hard at developing their skills so that they can listen for understanding.

Empathy

Listening for understanding enables leaders to have an increased capacity to relate to those with whom they are interacting. While they might not completely understand the perspective of the people they are working with (there are times when it is not genuine to say I Understand when your life experience is so different from the person’s with whom you are speaking), a Servant Leader has empathy for them and considers the serious impact of their decisions on the people they serve.

Healing

Michele Hunt said that Leadership is a serious meddling in other people’s lives.

Servant Leaders need to be able to both heal themselves and the people they work with. Organisational life can create emotional hurt for people and leader’s need to have the ability to help people resolve their relationships with colleagues, customers and the organisation itself. Often healing is represented by the leader treating all the people they come into contact with in a respectful way. Too many employees have not been respected because of their position in the organisational hierarchy. A Servant Leader treats all people with the same level of respect irrespective of their role. In doing so a Servant Leader helps the people they serve become more whole themselves as they build respect for themselves.

Awareness

Each of the ten characteristics of a Servant Leader is interdependent. A Servant Leader is self-aware, aware of what is happening for the people they serve and aware of what is happening outside their organisation. Being aware does not guarantee a sense of peace for a Servant Leader. In fact it is the opposite. Awareness means that the leader is sharply awake and keenly disturbed at the same time. Through awareness the Servant Leader knows that the world is a not a perfect place but that it can always be improved.

Persuasion

The Servant Leader is able to persuade through genuine listening and dialogue. They use facts, the picture of the future they are creating with others and a clear and shared sense of purpose to help the people they serve to find and create the future they desire. Persuasion is not coercion. Positional authority is not the power that a Servant Leader uses to get their way. Instead a Servant Leader is able to influence those they serve through their genuine practice of the ten characteristics of a Servant Leader.

Conceptualisation

A Servant Leader is able to communicate what possible futures look like. They have the ability to see beyond the day-to-day realities of organisational life to the possible future that they and the people they are serving are striving to create. Most importantly this characteristic is not one where the future they describe is the one that they dreamed by themselves, rather it is the possible future that they are able to articulate on behalf of the collective view that emerges over time.

Foresight

Foresight is the ability to see multiple consequences of both action and inaction. A Servant Leader is acutely aware of the ripple effect of errors of omission. They understand that they have an ethical responsibility to take action when they have the freedom to take action, even if that action is difficult.

Stewardship

Organisations and institutions do not exist to make heroes of their leaders. Servant Leaders understand that they have a duty to serve their organisation so that it is in better hands for the next generation of leaders. The organisation and the institution are bigger than the leader. This mental model is essential if you wish to be a true Servant Leader.

Commitment to the Growth of People

A Servant Leader aims to have the people they serve become more autonomous or at the very least not to be worse off as a result of their leadership. They strive to help people to find and develop their talents and celebrate in their success, even when this may mean (at times) those people leave the organisation.

Building Community

A Servant Leader is acutely aware that humans require a sense of belonging to help maintain their mental well-being. To this end Servant Leaders work at bringing people together and fostering a sense of community and understand that building community is created one person, one-act at a time.

Servant Leadership is not confined to community, not-for-profit and government agencies. Quite the contrary. Many successful for profit organisations are explicit in their application of Servant Leadership. Three explicit examples include Vanguard, Southwest Airlines and TDIndustries.

If you would like to explore how Servant Leadership can be introduced to your organisation please contact me here.

Gary Ryan enables organisations, leaders and talented professionals to move Beyond Being Good.

Gary Ryan

The Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader

In 1970 Robert K Greenleaf first published his essay, The Servant as Leader. This essay catalysed a world-wide movement for Servant Leadership. I was fortunate to have been exposed to the essay and many other resources associated with Servant Leadership from 1997. As such I have educated my clients about the power of being a Servant Leader ever since.

Throughout the essay, Greenleaf references a set of characteristics that need to exist for a leader to be a true servant. In total there are ten characteristics and each of them are explained below.

An example of a company that practices Servant Leadership
An example of a company that practices Servant Leadership

Listening

True leadership starts with the ability to listen for understanding. This is different to listening for argument. When you listen for understanding you are genuinely interested in understanding where the other is coming from. This does not mean that you have to agree with their perspective, just that you are genuinely interested in understanding it. When you listen for argument, you are listening from the perspective of finding holes in another’s arguments so that you can shoot them down. You are right and they are wrong. Period. A Servant Leader works hard at developing their skills so that they can listen for understanding.

Empathy

Listening for understanding enables leaders to have an increased capacity to relate to those with whom they are interacting. While they might not completely understand the perspective of the people they are working with (there are times when it is not genuine to say I Understand when your life experience is so different from the person’s with whom you are speaking), a Servant Leader has empathy for them and considers the serious impact of their decisions on the people they serve.

Healing

Michele Hunt said that Leadership is a serious meddling in other people’s lives.

Servant Leaders need to be able to both heal themselves and the people they work with. Organisational life can create emotional hurt for people and leader’s need to have the ability to help people resolve their relationships with colleagues, customers and the organisation itself. Often healing is represented by the leader treating all the people they come into contact with in a respectful way. Too many employees have not been respected because of their position in the organisational hierarchy. A Servant Leader treats all people with the same level of respect irrespective of their role. In doing so a Servant Leader helps the people they serve become more whole themselves as they build respect for themselves.

Awareness

Each of the ten characteristics of a Servant Leader is interdependent. A Servant Leader is self-aware, aware of what is happening for the people they serve and aware of what is happening outside their organisation. Being aware does not guarantee a sense of peace for a Servant Leader. In fact it is the opposite. Awareness means that the leader is sharply awake and keenly disturbed at the same time. Through awareness the Servant Leader knows that the world is a not a perfect place but that it can always be improved.

Persuasion

The Servant Leader is able to persuade through genuine listening and dialogue. They use facts, the picture of the future they are creating with others and a clear and shared sense of purpose to help the people they serve to find and create the future they desire. Persuasion is not coercion. Positional authority is not the power that a Servant Leader uses to get their way. Instead a Servant Leader is able to influence those they serve through their genuine practice of the ten characteristics of a Servant Leader.

Conceptualisation

A Servant Leader is able to communicate what possible futures look like. They have the ability to see beyond the day-to-day realities of organisational life to the possible future that they and the people they are serving are striving to create. Most importantly this characteristic is not one where the future they describe is the one that they dreamed by themselves, rather it is the possible future that they are able to articulate on behalf of the collective view that emerges over time.

Foresight

Foresight is the ability to see multiple consequences of both action and inaction. A Servant Leader is acutely aware of the ripple effect of errors of omission. They understand that they have an ethical responsibility to take action when they have the freedom to take action, even if that action is difficult.

Stewardship

Organisations and institutions do not exist to make heroes of their leaders. Servant Leaders understand that they have a duty to serve their organisation so that it is in better hands for the next generation of leaders. The organisation and the institution are bigger than the leader. This mental model is essential if you wish to be a true Servant Leader.

Commitment to the Growth of People

A Servant Leader aims to have the people they serve become more autonomous or at the very least not to be worse off as a result of their leadership. They strive to help people to find and develop their talents and celebrate in their success, even when this may mean (at times) those people leave the organisation.

Building Community

A Servant Leader is acutely aware that humans require a sense of belonging to help maintain their mental well-being. To this end Servant Leaders work at bringing people together and fostering a sense of community and understand that building community is created one person, one-act at a time.

Servant Leadership is not confined to community, not-for-profit and government agencies. Quite the contrary. Many successful for profit organisations are explicit in their application of Servant Leadership. Three explicit examples include Vanguard, Southwest Airlines and TDIndustries.

If you would like to explore how Servant Leadership can be introduced to your organisation please contact me here.

Gary Ryan enables organisations, leaders and talented professionals to move Beyond Being Good.

Leadership For Kids Highlights Lessons For Adults

Over the years I have had the good fortune to have been asked to provide some leadership development sessions for children. I usually work with adults and many of those adults are highly educated so we often go into quite complex areas when we facilitate leadership programs. Working with children therefore poses a considerable challenge. How do we distil quite complex information into an easily understood format for children?

The answer lies in having the capacity to understand leadership in such a way that it can be focussed into some simple concepts. Through some trial and error I have discovered some concepts that seem to work, with interesting feedback from the adults who have witnessed the programs.

Three key concepts have emerged as being the ones that children seem to be able to embrace:

1) Everyone is a leader
2) The Figure 8 of Leadership
3) Being responsible for your choices

1) Everyone is a leader
Over time I have found some interesting trends when working with children. When I have asked them to raise their hands if they believe that they are a leader or could be one in the future, virtually all the children raise their hand. When I then ask them, “Who are leaders?” they unanimously respond, “We are!”.

What response do you think that I usually hear from adults?

Very few adults raise their hand to indicate that they think that they are a leader.

For children, the concept that everyone is a leader and they have to lead themselves seems relatively natural, yet for adults it seems (for many) quite foreign. When we facilitate leadership education for adults one of our key themes is that you can’t lead others if you can’t lead yourself. My experience has taught me that children understand this idea, so we adults have a responsibility to continue to help them understand this concept by re-enforcing that they are, in fact leaders. To do this, find them making positive choices and recognise them for it. The importance of choices is explained in the second lesson below.

2) The Figure 8 of Leadership

While my experience with adults is that it takes them a while to comprehend that leadership can be for bad reasons (equalling poor leadership) just as it can be for good reasons (equalling good leadership), children seem to understand this concept quite easily. This raises the important issue of self leadership, which feeds off the first concept above, that we are all leaders.

In simple terms self-leadership starts with choices. Some choices are good choices and lead to good behaviour, while other choices are poor choices and lead to poor behaviour. The good choices represent good leadership, and the poor choices represent poor leadership. On many levels this is quite simple. And it is! Children seem to understand it and can easily provide many examples of good choices and poor choices which result in good leadership or poor leadership.

The simple power of the model lies in the fact that children have the capacity to start making good choices even if they have made some poor ones. In other words, the start of good leadership is only a choice away. Clearly the reverse is also true; poor leadership is only a choice away as well. I recall a child in one session raising his hand and saying,

“I’ve been making lots of bad choices at school such as not listening to teachers and picking on other kids. I thought that I was a bad person and I didn’t realise that I was a leader. But what you’re saying is that I only have to start making good choices and I can be a good leader. I like that idea. I can do that.”

None of us are perfect. We will all make poor choices. Overall leadership is dependent upon the balance of our choices. Are they generally on the good half of the model, or the poor half? Over time we can consciously develop positive habits to enhance our good leadership through making good choices. Maybe this leadership stuff isn’t so hard after all, which leads to the third and final concept.

3) Being responsible for your choices
Rather than blaming other people or circumstances for our choices, personal responsibility for our choices increases the probability that we will make good choices. Once again children seem to easily understand such a statement. Maybe they see the consequences of their choices more clearly than we adults do because they have so many adults around them monitoring their behaviour. Yet when we become adults often we stop getting that sort of feedback because of many complicated reasons. What if we adults were to actively seek out feedback on the choices that we are making and our resultant behaviours? Maybe such feedback would assist us in better leading ourselves. And we never know, the better we lead ourselves the more likely others may be to follow.

In summary, the key features of Leadership for Kids that may provide some lessons for adults include:
1) We are all leaders;
2) Our choices lie at the heart of effective leadership; and
3) Personal responsibility for our choices will enhance our capacity to lead ourselves and others.

How do these lessons apply to you?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

Are you prepared to be vulnerable?

Over the past few weeks I have conducted a number of teamwork programs. One of the activities that I enjoy facilitating is asking the participants to form small groups and to identify the characteristics of the effective and ineffective teams of which they have been members.

Examples can from from any team experience and I encourage participants to broader their thinking about their definition of a ‘team’. Some examples of this definition include:

  • A workplace
  • A family
  • A university study group
  • A sporting team
  • A community group
  • Travelling with friends or family

After providing the participants with enough time to share their stories, I collect the results.

An interesting characteristic that always comes up for effective teams is trust. Similarly, a lack of trust is always raised as a characteristic of ineffective teams.

Trust. Easy to say. Hard to give.

Why? It is my view that trust involves a willingness to be vulnerable. In a team concept, to trust your team members means that you have faith that they will do what they say they will do to the best of their ability. When I ask program participants to describe what it was like to be trusted, they say things like:

“He never looked over my shoulder. Even though it was the first time I was doing this task, he asked if I needed any further help and I said that I didn’t. He told me that I could contact him at any stage if my circumstances changed. If I were him I’m not sure that I could have trusted me like he did. And that was special. I think I actually did the job better because I was trusted. I found it really motivating.”

“She was the leader, there was no question about that. But when we allocated tasks and she was clear that we understood what needed to be done, she let us ‘go for it’. Her door was always open and we knew that, and from time to time we would go to her for assistance, either physically or via email or on the phone. She was always available when we needed her. But she never, ever behaved like she didn’t trust us. It never felt like she was looking over our shoulder making sure we did it exactly how she would. And this was an important project. And we knew that, and we respected that. That’s why we created such a wonderful result. We were a real team and she trusted us!”

You can’t fake trust. It is either genuine, or it isn’t. In today’s complex world it is nearly impossible to ‘go it alone’. Leaders have to trust their team members to do their job, even if the leader could do parts of the job ‘better’ on their own.

To trust, however, requires the leader to be okay with being vulnerable. Trust can’t be broken if it isn’t given. So, by nature genuinely trusting someone means that you are prepared for the possibility that they might break your trust, which in turn makes you vulnerable.

In our world of accountability and responsibility, trust can become very hard to ‘give’. If I’m the leader, the ‘buck stops with me.’ If this project fails, then it’s my fault. It’s complex, isn’t it.

I doubt there is any golden rule with regard to trust. I am a trusting person, but I am not prepared to trust ‘just anyone’. I use all my ‘three brains’ (I’ll explain what that term means in a future blog) to determine whether I will trust someone or not.

Each time I trust someone I am conscious of the choice that I have just made. Trust is behavioural, so saying, “I trust you” means nothing, if (in a work example) all I do is look over your shoulder every step of the way. Being prepared to be vulnerable is a tension leaders have to grapple with.

Are you prepared top be vulnerable?

What are your experiences of trust both as a team member and as a leader?

How have you managed the ‘vulnerability’ tension?

The chances are that if trust is not present then high performance will be a long way away. So what is the bigger risk, the preparedness to be vulnerable or the preparedness to under-perform?

Please share your experiences, thoughts and comments.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

How ‘aware’ are you?

Today my family and I were at the airport saying good-bye to one of my nieces who had been staying with us during the school holidays.

I was amazed at the number of times there were groups of people who were collectively blocking the various thoroughfares as we were trying to make our way through the airport. Each time we ‘excused’ ourselves to make our way through these groups of people it struck me that each individual seemed to be unaware of the impact that the group of which they were a member was causing the people around them.

This caused me to wonder about personal awareness, particularly when people are part of a larger group. In general, how aware are people of the impact of the larger group on those around them? Do they even care?

‘Awareness’ is a Servant Leadership characteristic and includes a consciousness of 360 degrees around us, much like a martial artist is aware of the full circle around them. What is your level of awareness, both individually and when you are part of a group? Is awareness a leadership characteristic that you have ever considered? What experiences of ‘awareness’ have you had that you are comfortable sharing with others?

If you have been part of a larger group and then you have become aware of the negative impact of that group upon others, what you have done about that situation? Has your awareness led to positive action?

Please share your stories.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

Service excellence comes in many forms

Service is not just a traditional retail experience. Examples of service include the willingness to allow direct reports to make mistakes so that they can learn (even though you could have done the task faster and to a higher quality yourself). Cleaning up after yourself in the lunch room. Picking up rubbish in the foyer and placing it in the bin. Letting others go first through a doorway. Offering your seat to someone not as healthy as yourself when riding public transport. Listening to a colleague when they just need another human’s ear. These are all simple examples of service. Service can be everywhere and it can be nowhere. How present is service in your life?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

Reacting to a redundancy

A magnificent two part article has just been released on the Pegasus Communications Blog. Chris Abbey wonderfully articulates his own experience of receiving what he terms a ‘warn letter’. In Australia we might refer to being ‘offered a redundancy’. On that point, I “chose to accept a redundancy” a number of years ago. I often hear people say that they were “made redundant”. When queried, people usually say that, in the end, they chose to take the ‘package’ rather than stay. I then suggest that they were an active participate in the process that they experienced, and while they may not have liked the experience, they were still an active participant, versus being a passive participant who had a redundancy ‘done to them’. While a subtle shift in self-talk, it is my view that the difference can have a massive impact on an individual’s capacity to work their way through the seven stages of grief. (listed below)

1. Shock and denial
2. Pain and guilt
3. Anger and bargaining
4. Depression, reflection, and loneliness
5. The Upward Turn
6. Reconstruction and working through
7. Acceptance and hope

Once again Chris Abbey articulates his experience over two articles (Part One & Part Two). They are worth reading irrespective of the stage of your career and his insights about using the experience to help you to become even better are powerful. He certainly describes what my experience has been!

Please feel free to comment on this article.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com