This may be bit of a profound if not an outrageous suggestion in the title in this blog post. The notion is the phenomena known as servant leadership. I first heard of this several years ago at a previous employer. Part of the review process for mangers was the idea of “leaders who serve”. While I certainly agreed with the concept, I did not fully appreciate how much ahead-of-the-times this thinking was. Nowadays, servant leadership is becoming used more and more. In short, it espouses the necessity for leaders and others in a position over groups or organizations have an obligation to support those that report to them. Without this support, the team or organization will in most cases not realize long term sustainable success. This post presents two very real examples from my experiences of how it works.
I completed the Executive MBA program at Villanova University from August 2005 through May 2007. Of the many things I learned (and I learned a lot!) much of it was not listed anywhere in the program literature or curriculum. Nor would it be found in any of the syllabi. This blog post focuses on one particular phenomenon that I plan to put into practice as often as possible. As a backdrop, I will highlight that this program provided much opportunity for team based assignments. To support this, each class is grouped into ‘learning cells’ of between four and seven students. I digress in saying that I believe this team structure is in line with our social make-up as gregarious creatures. I also feel it better represents real life experiences both in and outside the business environment.
During our first module (otherwise thought of as a semester) we had an Economics course. The final assignment was not a pencil and paper exam (thank goodness). Rather, each group was tasked with presenting the class and professor a demonstration supporting what had been learned during the module. Our learning cell decided to do a skit based on the hit TV show, American Idol. I won’t go into great detail other than we basically had two people volunteer to lend their vocal talent (I use the word ‘talent’ quite loosely here) and the other three in our group served as the panel complete with our own Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Ryan Seacrest. Incidentally, if you’re wondering I was one of the performers and I’ll stop there…
The outcome of this presentation was a spectacular success by two notable measures. First, we were one of the few – and perhaps the first group – to receive a standing ovation (for creativity and guts rather than for the singing I am certain). Second, the professor said he would email each group’s grades to each respective group member along with his thoughts and/or a brief explanation. The members of our learning cell received the following in a short email, “Grade A – No explanation necessary”.
During our fifth and last module (the composition of the learning cells were shuffled a bit) we were assigned a similar team task for a Business Ethics course. We were to provide a presentation demonstrating our learning from the course. Our learning cell chose to perform a skit modeled after the dramatic courtroom scene in the movie A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson. Again, we had another resounding success with high accolades from all three professors who sat in observation of the presentations.
I, along with all the learning cells with which I participated (and I highly suspect about everyone else in the class) had many other success experiences in the program. For me, the two I described above were among the most notable. The shared attribute of both of them was that there was never any one single person in charge as we might commonly think of what it means to be “in charge”. We had of course, as with all team assignments, elected one person to be the “in charge” person of record. The distinction here is that this role was merely a formality. We all approached the tasks as equals and the so-called “in charge” person was just as much a servant to the benefit of the group as were all other team members. If anyone outside the group were to observe us in action as we prepared for the delivery of these presentations, they would likely have had no idea who was “in-charge”.
It is so meaningful for me to share these experiential observations with you as I deeply believe that maintaining perspective is so important when each of us is given the role of being “in charge”. The importance of the “in charge” person to the success of the team is no more or less than that of the other team members. “In Charge” should more aptly be thought of as “In Service”.
Thanks for reading. Have a great day!