Consider two random managers in two different organizations of your choosing with two very different leadership mindsets. The first mindset is best described as a philosophy of leadership that says, “I have got to make sure the people around me don’t ‘mess up my career.’” The second mindset is more of a leadership philosophy that says, “I am here to assist the people around me to be as successful as they can possibly be.”
Now, as we all know, you can’t see an attitude, a mindset or a philosophy. You can only draw inference about it based on the behaviors that you do see. So, based on your own experience, what are the predictable behavior patterns associated with the two leadership mindsets mentioned above? When I have asked real-world leaders this question over the years, there has been strikingly similarity in their responses, outlined below.
Leaders With Mindset No. 1 Tend to:
- Micromanage; act highly directive; be controlling.
- Take credit.
- Avoid blame.
- Advance the workable and/or creative ideas of others as their own.
Leaders With Mindset No. 2 Tend to:
- Participate; collaborate and empower others.
- Give credit to others.
- Assume responsibility when “things go wrong.”
- Actively seek opportunities to put the talent of their team on full display.
When you unpack all that, you typically discover another layer of candid, real-world wisdom that distinguishes the relationship between leadership style and leader mindset or philosophy. To better understand what each leadership mindset looks like, consider the frequently asked questions
Question: We associate leaders with Mindset No. 1 with micromanagement. Will a Mindset 1 ever delegate? If so, how does that delegation differ from delegation or empowerment from a leader with Mindset No. 2?
Answer: Leaders with Mindset No. 1 typically delegate projects or tasks that are menial or low risk. They also have a tendency to delegate projects they think have a high probability of failing (but if those projects wind up being successful, they can somehow emerge from the periphery to take credit in an instant)!
Question: How about participation or collaboration? How does that work for leaders with Mindset No. 1?
Answer: Leaders with Mindset No. 1 may go through the motions of asking people questions and acting interested in their responses, but at the end of the day, they only take action on suggestions they were committed to before the “discussion role-play” was initiated. Therefore, collaborating with leaders with Mindset No. 1 feels a lot more like manipulation than it does participation.
Question: What about leaders with Mindset No. 2? We have a tendency to categorize the behavioral leadership approaches of leaders with Mindset No. 2 with empowerment and collaboration. Are leaders with Mindset No. 2 ever directive or highly structured? If so, when?
Answer: Leaders with Mindset No. 2 need guidance and structure with people who are new to a task or responsibility and are struggling to figure things out. They are also directive — perhaps even punitive —with members of their team who are not pulling their weight and don’t seem to care, as well as with team members whose presence and/or approach may compromise or even sabotage the team’s efforts.
Question: What kind of leader would you prefer to work for?
Answer: Without exception — a leader with Mindset No. 2!
Question: What kind of leader do you aspire to be?
Answer: Again, with limited variability—Mindset 2!
Question: With all these descriptors, and documented aspirations, why are there still so many examples of Mindset 1 leaders?
Answer: It comes down to culture: If you work for an organization that espouses Mindset No. 2 values (which they all do) but rewards Mindset 1 leaders, guess what? You’ll end up with more leaders with Mindset No. 1.
What is Servant Leadership?
Servant leadership is synonymous with Mindset No. 2. It is a philosophy that suggests that leaders need to be responsive (first and foremost) to the needs of the people on their team. That may seem rather straightforward today, but when servant leadership was unveiled way back in the early 1970s in Robert Greenleaf’s essay, “The Servant As Leader,” it caused quite a stir.
Greenleaf’s servant leadership philosophy challenged the conventional thinking behind Mindset No. 1 regarding the role of leaders in organizations. Traditionally, leaders at various levels of the organizational hierarchy were but conduits of directive communication and accountability. They functioned primarily to ensure productivity targets were met or exceeded with limited attention focused on things like employee engagement, career development or the retention of key talent. It is by no means a stretch to suggest that, for decades, servant leadership was seen as theoretical rhetoric at best with no chain of evidence to support it.
Today, and with ever increasing regularity, servant leadership is a foundational philosophy driving significant business results on multiple fronts. In “The Heart of Business” Hubert Joly, former chief executive officer of BestBuy, discusses BestBuy’s turnaround, which is rooted in one servant leadership (Mindset No. 2) story after another.
BestBuy’s case, as well as many others, begs the question: What if the purpose of a business isn’t simply to make a profit but to provide people with a platform to fulfill their dreams in service of a noble purpose? If this is true, how would top-level managers in such an organization treat employees? How would employees treat each other? How would the employees on the frontline treat customers? Most importantly, how would those customers respond over time?
As Joly suggests, profit is an outcome and it is also an imperative, but it can’t be a company’s singular goal. Organizations that embrace servant leadership will reap the benefits of increased revenue and improved employee engagement and the job satisfaction that comes with working for a meaningful purpose. That being said, remember that servant leadership in the real world is by no means an exclusive function of collaboration and empowerment. Not every suggestion is a good one, and it would be pure fantasy to think that everyone could be provided with unbridled autonomy for what they felt like doing to make a meaningful contribution.
Ultimately, effective servant leaders use the entire spectrum of available leadership styles but find a way to use the approach that will assist whomever they are leading to be as successful as they can possibly be.