First Lesson in Leadership: Flexibility

Flexibility in Order to Become a Serving Leader

Dealing with leadership and management issues in the workplace has become more challenging over the past few decades. Within the blog post “Old School Leadership is Out”, Roy Osing brings up some points of view, considering mainly that managers should focus on providing guidance and support rather than assigning tasks. The author distinguishes clearly the old and new-school leadership techniques, making a powerful argument for why we should aim to embody the role he refers to as the, “serving leader.”

Old-school leadership is considered to be “MBWA: Managing By Wandering Around,” is exactly what it sounds like.  Meandering through the workplace keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary was at one time an esteemed practice. However, this leadership technique fails to inspire the passion or drive required for successful, meaningful teamwork. Staying flexible is key to tuning into the needs of employees and fostering their development. That’s where new-school leadership comes in.

“New-school leadership can be summed up as “LBSA: Leading By Serving Around.” According to Osing, there is a clear difference between managing and leading. While a manager’s primary focus is, “organizational performance,” the leader’s agenda is more flexible. Leaders, “…offer personal help, recognizing that if someone’s individual problems are solved, performance enhancement follows.”

Supporting Osing ideas, Alan Murray’s article published in The Wall Street Journal, “What is the Difference Between Management and Leadership?”, states that “in the new economy, where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people, and where workers are no longer undifferentiated cogs in an industrial machine, management and leadership are not easily separated. People look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define for them a purpose. On the flip side managers must organize workers, and above all remain flexible in their approach, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.”

The process to develop a serving leader behavior might not be easy but it is worth it. The key to achieving this balance lies entirely in flexibility. Individuals make up teams, and they need to be acknowledged and treated as such. Here are five ways you can start effectively leading your organization right now:

1. Do your research. Determine what and who needs help on your team. Once you’ve identified where you’re needed, you can then begin serving accordingly.

2. Go at it alone… or as a group. Being a serving leader isn’t always a solo act that requires a deep understanding of what individuals need to thrive. For some, groups can be intimidating and they are more likely to open up to you about their needs when approached individually.  For others, knowing there is a team to support them makes them more comfortable. Start with a one-on-one conversation, and take it from there.

3. Talk less, listen more. Monologues from superiors don’t solve problems. Part of being a flexible leader means you need to sit back and listen. It is vital that you fully understand the needs of the individual in front of you. Don’t offer advice until it is clear you know how to best serve them.

4. Follow up. Once a problem is solved, check in to make sure it stays that way. It’s best to nip issues in the bud early on and prevent them from progressing.

5. Continue to lead. Work to embody your inner serving leader in all aspects of your life. From taking the lead with your children or spouse to your friends and coworkers, the more you lead the more natural it will be.

Serving leaders are the trend of the future. They are more concerned with the people that make up their organizations because they understand that satisfied employees who feel valued and heard create better products. As Osing reminds us, “If you take care of the person, performance will take care of itself.”