Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book review: The Servant Leader by James A. Autry

 An amazing book on Servant Leadership. Enjoy reading it.

Below is excerpt from Chapter 1 on Characteristics of the Leader as Servant

Five way of Being
1st Authenic

2nd  Be Vulnerable

3rd   Be Accepting

4th   Be Present

5th   Be Useful

Be Authentic

What does being authentic mean? Simply stated, it means be who you
are. Be the same person in every circumstance. Hold to the same values
in whatever roles you have. Always be your real self. Maybe the best
way to say this is to ask if you’ve heard the expression “He’s real”
That’s what I’m talking about. Being real.

I recall once in when I was in serious conflict with the vice
president who was over my department. I had be given his job and felt,
probably a little arrogantly, that it was mine to do and define. We
were in a conflict from the beginning. Finally, I got a very
attractive offer to go to New York in a substantial position in our
industry. So I resigned.

My big boss, the CEO of the company, asked by phone that I hold my
letter of resignation until he could fly back from New York and meet
with me. I agreed but offered no promises. My new employer was waiting
for the go-ahead to prepare  a press release. This  was no maneuver of
that type, in fact it would not have been authentic for me to try to
pull such a maneuver.

At four in the afternoon, I went into the CEO’s office and handed him
the letter. He read it. He looked at me, right in the eye, put his
hand on my arm, and said “I’ve been such a jerk, and I’m sorry, I knew
this was a big problem, but I hoped it would go away. I should have
known better. I should have known that the structure I set did not
free you to the creative job I expected. I’m sorry. I’ll change it. I
need you here to help carry out the vision. Please stay.”

To make the story short. I stayed. I didn’t stay for more money or
power or position. I stayed because I believed the CEO. I had always
believed in him as a visionary leader, but it was at the moment that I
got the measure of him as an hones, authentic human being- one willing
to admit his mistakes, who did not allow his sense of position, his
ego, to prevent him from apologizing to some lower in the hierarchy.

This may seem simple enough on the surface, but the fact is the much
of our conditioning is against being authentic. In the process of
socializing us, of teaching us how to be in the world, our parents
taught us to not say some of what we were feeling or thinking. This
carries over to the workplace, where we are taught, through direct
instruction or through our own observation, that some subjects are
“taboo” around here.  “We learn the politics
 Of when to speak and when no to speak, of what to say, of how to
handle bad news.  We learn to fudge the budget or cover our rears with

I’m not talking about dishonesty, through that could be considered
radical inauthenticity. I’m talking about how we are considered to not
be the true to ourselves.

I recently worked with a top manager who had two major management
flaws, both having to do with his unwillingness to be authentic. He
believes that telling people what they want to hear is the most
effective way to manage them., whether  or not he really believes what
he’s telling them. He is always sure to use language  that is
slippery, that gives him an out if he doesn’t want to do what he has
led them to expect he will do. For instance, when asked about  a
policy that I knew he instituted and fully supported, he replied,
“Good point, I could be persuaded to take another look at that one”.

Notice that he didn’t say,  “I will take another look”, or, “You’ve
persuaded me to take another look,” though that is what the employee
was let to believe. When I, as a consultant , called the manager on
his language, he even tried to pull it on me.

“I didn’t lie,” he said. “I really could be persuaded to take another
look.” Slippery slippery- and not the language of authenticity.
Authenticity means much more than being technically truthful.

Another senior manager I know is fond of committees or as he calls
them, “work groups.” But here’s the way it works. The group spends
time studying the situation of the manager’s choosing, then works out
recommendations and sends the manager a report. He then red-pencils
the report and sends it back. The it comes back, The he red-pencils it
again with suggestion. Finally, when the committee recommends what he
wanted done in the first place, he approves the report.

When I asked why he didn’t just tell them how he wanted it done,
rather than putting them through all the work and frustration, he
replied. “ I saw it as a learning experience for them.”

That is not authentic way to provide a learning experience.

Learning experiences are important, and it is important to mentor
people and help them learn. But realize that mentoring is also about
helping people learn to be themselves. You do that by honoring what is
good and unique about those you are mentoring, not by trying to bend
them to your image. That’s playing God.

Being authentic is, first knowing yourself, then being  yourself.
Authenticity derives from our deepest, truest selves. How do we come
to know ourselves? Only through what we can be called spiritual
disciplines, silence, mediation, prayer. And certainly , sometimes,
traditionally therapy or groups dedicated to self-exploration.
If you are truly authentic then you’ll also…..

Be Vulnerable

Back in the 1980’s during the farm crisis, on of my company’s
magazines, Successful Farming, decided to sponsor a major conference
on alternative agriculture. We decided to give farmers all over the
country a change to come to our headquarter’s city and participate.
The conference would be free to the farmers, and we promised to get
them good prices on room and board. We would even charter buses at no
cost to transport farmers. As you might imagine, this was an expensive
proposition with no apparent payoff, but that’s the kind of
relationship we felt we had our readers, our customers, who were

The letters began to pour in. Many of them cam to the CEO.

At an annual employee’s meeting in New York, at the big luncheon , the
CEO referred to what we were doing and to some of the letters he
received. He began to read one: “We’re dying out here”, it said,”and
you’re the only ones who seem to care.” The CEO could hardly finish
the sentence because he became so choked up. He himself had grown up
in a rural area and could feel deeply the words he was reading.

You might imagine that crowd of New Yorkers was cynical or hard-edged
in its response. Not at all. Here was our big boss who, in sharing the
letters as part of his business presentation, let us sell and
experience his own sympathy and grief about what those letters
represented, as well as his pride about what we were doing. He did not
intend to choke up;  it was certainly not a technique, a cynical ploy.

The paradox in being vulnerable is that it also requires you to be
courageous. What does vulnerable mean? Wearing your feelings on your
sleeve? Sharing your pain?  Tearing up at moment’s notice?  No. Doing
any of those things as some kind of “technique” would be neither
authentic nor truly vulnerable.

Basically, being vulnerable means being honest with your feelings in
the context of your work: being open with your doubts and fears and
concerns about an idea, an employee’s performance, or your own
performance; and being able to admit mistakes openly, particularly
with your employees. Simply saying, “I was wrong,” and meaning it,
embracing it, is an extension of vulnerability and, I believe, is a
sign of being spiritually attuned and aware.

Being vulnerable take a great deal of courage because it means letting
go of the old notions of control, forgetting forever the illusion that
you can be in control. Too many of us think that our powers comes form
our ability to maintain control. To the contrary, our power comes from
realizing that we can’t be in control and that must depend on others.

Despite the image of the rugged individual, you really don’t succeed
at anything in an organization by yourself. It’s myth we need to get
rid of.
But just as we are conditioned against being authentic, we are
conditioned against being vulnerable. Men especially, are taught to be
tough, to not show their feelings. This is an old story, and to much
has been made of the gender differences in this regard, but we should
recongnize that all of us have been taught to cover up our emotions.
But there simply is no way to be authentic without revealing our true
selves, and that means revealing our emotions, how we feel, and that
means revealing our emotions, how we feel about the work, the
workplace, and one another.

Expressing anger in this definition. Is there a spiritual way to show anger? Yes

Expressing anger honestly is very different from acting in anger. You
can properly express anger, buy you can’t act properly if you act in
anger. One can be called spiritually appropriate, the other is the

Vulnerability has an aspect of empathy as well, the ability to put
yourself in the other’s shoes, to view the world or the situation from
the other’s viewpoint. So…

Be Accepting

Acceptance is more important than approval. I believe this is true in
friendship and marriage and parenting, as well as in professional
relationships. I observed that most of the conflicts in a workplace
are more  concerned with style and personality than a product or
process. Thus, communities of work, from teams to large department,
will become dysfunctional unless the art of acceptance become the

A lot of organizations are emphasizing teams for more productivity and
a general better working environment. But the fact is that teams often
don’t work because the expectations is that  everything will be
hunky-dory all the time, the real team members will always agree, I’m
sure you’ve heard it said of someone who disagrees with other members
of the team that he or she is “not a team player.”

The art of acceptance does not imply that you accept everyone’s ideas
without critical analysis, discussion and judgment- only that you
accept the ideas as valid for the discussion and review, and that you
focus on the ideas themselves, not on the person who presented them.

It also means that you accept and embrace disagreements as a human
part of the process of work.

If you  are to express your spirituality fully, if you are to achieve
the goal of servant leadership, then you must abandon any dualistic
notion of winners and losers. My goodness, we have done way to much to
turn the workplace and business into some kind of war, or at least
high-contact sport. But the truth is that we are participants
together. All can win, nobody has to lose. Authentic people never feel
themselves to be losers, thus, they can never be losers. Others may
call you a loser, but that’s only because they may have some need to
feel that they are winners- something they simply can’t do unless they
can think of someone else a loser.

Authentic people do not get into this trap. Authentic people accept
others without judgment, just as they want to be accepted, without the
need for approval or disapproval.

Being accepting is possible only if you can.

Be Present

When I say “be present,” you might be tempted to look around and say,
“I’m here, aint I?” I can’t argue with that, but being present is not
just being here or there, but having  your whole self available at all
times- available to yourself as you try to bring all your values to
bear on the  work at hand, and available to others as you respond to
the problems and issues and challenges of team members, collegues,
managers, employees, vendors, and customers.

This is difficult task because of the pressure of the past and the
future. We’re always trying to learn from the past, and if we’re
fulfilling our full management role, we’re always planning for the
future. So being attuned to  all your management responsibilities
while living in the present and focusing on the here and now sometimes
seems impossible. It often seems counterintuitive as well.

But believe me, the effect on those around you is palpable. When they
see you remaining centered and grounded in the midst of whatever
perceived crisis is at hand-and there is usually one crisis on a
regular basis in most workplaces-they will be more assured and
confident in their own actions.

Conversely, when they see agitated, worried, stressed, short-tempered,
and distracted, then they become the same way, only worse because
they’re worried that you might take it (whatever it is) out on them.

So be present, Think about it. Concentrate on it. Do you want a
little, almost trivial-sounding, ten-second tool for quickly helping
you come back to center? Try this meditative technique I learned a
long time ago and still use to this day. In fact, I used it before I
began writing today.

Think about something that makes you smile: a loved one, a child, an
experience you had, great vacation. Just visualize what makes you

Now close you eyes, take a deep breath as you can, hold it for a
couple of seconds, think about what makes you smile, and exhale
slowly, Open you eyes. Try this couple of times a day, perhaps once in
the morning and once in the afternoon, It’s a ten-second investment in
being present. Guaranteed.

Now, if you authentic, vulnerable, accepting and present, there’s only
one other aspect to manisfesting your spirituality of work, And that
is simply to…

Be Useful

I have to smile a little as I write this, because I recall my
grandmother saying to me-it seemed several times a day-“Jimmy, make
yourself useful around here.”

And that goes to the  very heart of this book: service. The most
important thing you can be as a leader is useful. Let me put that
another way. The  late Robert Greenleaf wrote and lectured extensively
on the servant leader. He also established the highly regarded
Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership in Indianapolis. Underlying
Dr. Greenleaf’s work and my own urging to make yourself useful is the
fundamental concept of being of service to others.

Another way to think of this is a  resource for you people. On the
primary functions of the manager/leader is to assure that people get
the resources they need to do the job. To be a leader who serves, you
must think of yourself as –and indeed a must be-their principal

Clearly this requires a change of orientantion for many people. After
all you worked hard to get to be a manager, to get to be the boss. And
now I’m telling you to be a resource.


Because the concept of serving others is a essential part of what I
believe about leadership, let me offer you a list of six thing I
believe about leadership.

1.      Leadership is not about controlling people; it’s about caring for
people and being useful resource for people.

2.      Leadership is not about being the boss; it’s about being present
for people and building a community at work.

3.      Leadership is not about holding on to territory, it’s about letting
it go, bringing your spirit to work, being your best and most
authentic self.

4.      Leadership is less concerned  with pep talks and more concerned
with creating a place in which people can do good work, can find
meaning in their work, and can bring their spirits to work.

5.      Leadership, like life, is largely a matter of paying attention.

6.      Leadership requires love.

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