When Servant-Leaders Choose to Advantage Others – Even if it Hurts
Putting the team first sounds great until advantaging others disadvantages you.
The choice between personal advantage and organizational advantage speaks to the heart of servant leadership.
“Win-win” is challenging when YOU win later and OTHERS win sooner.
3 leadership decisions that include disadvantage:
#1. Developing people.
The choice to develop someone is choosing short-term disadvantage for long-term advantage.
Developing people is an investment. You wait for future results while incurring present cost.
- Mistakes precede growth. It’s costly – in the short-term – to allow people to learn from mistakes. The path to high performance is scattered with mistakes.
- Average precedes remarkable. Average performance comes before remarkable performance. If you’re remarkable on the first try, you aimed too low.
Developing people means setting them up for success when it’s quicker and easier to do it yourself.
A commitment to develop people includes the choice of short-term pain for long-term gain.
#2. Forgiving people.
Forgiveness always costs.
You end up spending leadership collateral, for example, when you let someone learn from screw-ups.
#3. Removing high performers.
Ethical choices may create short-term disadvantage.
For example, you have a high-performer who consistently backstabbs teammates. It’s tempting to turn a blind eye.
You believe strong relationships build great organizations but keeping a high-performing backstabber weakens relationships.
You might believe, “If the team wins, you win.” That’s true. But advantaging others may disadvantage you in the short-term.
When to advantage others – even if it hurts:
- Has the person demonstrated character? Make room for lack of skill. Confront lack of character.
- Is there progress? If you’re circling the same hole, you’re the problem. Perhaps your aspirations exceed their ability.
- How much is at stake? Make space for failure, but don’t bet the farm on an inexperienced team member.
The ability to disadvantage yourself includes the wisdom to discern long-term wins.
What leadership decisions may include short-term disadvantage?
How might leaders know when to choose long-term advantage?
Dan, Thank you for this post. There is a great deal of wisdom here; perhaps enough for a few more of us to choose investing in others, even while recognizing the short term impact on the way to long-term benefits and results.
Thanks Kenneth. I keep thinking about the seduction of quick results. But the decision isn’t always easy.
Overall, being patient while people grow increases their resolve and commitment. But, too much patience seems to invite entitlement.
Challenge AND support are two sides of the high-performance coin. It’s so easy to choose one over the other.
Thanks. Great timing on this. SL has a wide variety of impacts when it is properly implemented. It is about the organic side of the organization, about the people and the relationships.
Many see this as a quasi-religious approach because of the “servant” word and many do actually frame it that way. We’ve been integrating a SELFLESS Leadership framework around the approach, where “The Expedition Leader” has the role of supporting the players for the optimization of results, short-term and long-term. What is somewhat ironic is the choice that the PLAYERS make about keeping the EL at arms length and not asking for help when it is needed.
We see this choice of sub-optimization everywhere. Workplace teams choose to compete rather than collaboration simply because they perceive that competition is the culture. There is little trust and respect, none shown and none received. The goal seems to be survival rather than success, protect rather than innovate.
There are simply SO MANY things that can be done differently in the workplace. But how to we get people to see that they can make different choices than the ones that they make?
You cannot simply DO Selfless Leadership to people and expect them to pick that up. Some will take advantage of that because of their personal histories. The challenge is to get the players to accept the reality that EVERYONE can choose to so something differently, if they choose to…
Thanks Dr. Scott. I enjoy your insights on these posts. Today’s comment totally rocks!
Your insights about keeping the Expedition Leader at arms length remind me of some extremes that I see when leaders adopt a servant approach.
I’m thinking about the challenge of making someone else look good…even better than you look. That’s what shining the light on others means.
Shared values and commitment might be an expression of enlightened self-interest. I’ll shine the light on you and you’ll shine it on me later.
It’s interesting that motivation seems to be a factor. If we serve SO that others SERVE US we go astray. But, when others have opportunity and ability to reciprocate and they don’t, something needs to change.
I’m wondering here…your comment lit me up.
Brother Scott; The one ingredient that has been missing from many efforts such as you describe is the “Management Of Communications”. While the work place environment may have multiple teams at play, competition is normal for a hos t reasons to include various forms of incentive rewards. This is an opportunity to employ one of John Kotter’s critical keys to organizational development and success – Key Communications Processes. Scott, since you are aware of the competitive culture and that it may be impeding some things, it may be time to sit representative from each team down for strategically time meetings to share and reinforce that everyone or every team is working toward the same goal. Make certain the goal is clear and that TOP management is clear and supportive of the direction.
Reiterate the direction of the organization and acknowledge that each of the team is contributing to the visionary outcome of the organizations leadership. Communicate and manage it in a very strategic manner.
“Make room for lack of skill. Confront lack of character!” and boom goes my head. I get focused on results even in training. I need to focus more on character. Thank you sir for the reminder.
Wow! That’s great Walt. I was thinking about Coach Belichicks idea of going with dependable people, even if they aren’t the most talented. That seems to be a choice about character.
It may impact hiring also. Character first…skill second. 🙂
What leadership decisions may include short-term disadvantage? Training individuals who are not serious of their career choice, they will not stay, will not attempt to better themselves until they reach their choices, which may have nothing to do with your company. So we need to select the Character option as you stated. This can be the double edge sword, perhaps we did not present them a clear vision so they really don’t know what they want either. We may have to suffer the consequences later.
How might leaders know when to choose long-term advantage? When we see a commitment from others who has vision to see things and do them without direction, these individuals are the building blocks of a great organization. As compared to someone who repeatedly needs to be told what to do, how to do it and never seems to grasp the process.