Empower Your Team Through Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership is fast-becoming a prominent leadership style, and for good reason: It tends to increase trust and collaboration among team members, helps to build coalitions and community, and promotes ethical business practices.

While many leaders use the power of their position to direct and control employees, the servant leader listens; her focus is on understanding employees to develop and support them. Servant leaders flip the traditional relationship between the employee and the leader, fostering a strong service culture by empowering and involving workers.

As part of the eCornell Entrepreneurship webinar series, Judi Brownell from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration joined Chris Wofford for a interactive discussion on how servant leadership can transform your organization to one that is service-centered and culturally inclusive. An abridged version of their conversation follows.

Wofford: Judi, we previously had a great conversation about the art of listening as it relates to leadership (((link to previous transcript))). Today we’re going to be covering the concept of servant leadership. What is that? It sounds like a response to a top-down leadership style.

Brownell: Well, servant leadership is relatively recent. The term was coined at some point in the early 1970s, but it was only recently that it became a truly prominent leadership style. What happens in servant leadership is that the follower experience really changes. Instead of followers taking a backseat and looking to a leader as the one who knows everything, servant leadership really puts the power front and center.

A servant leader follows a philosophy of service. A servant leader needs to believe that his or her role is really to serve, and they get satisfaction and gratification out of that type of behavior.

Wofford: I don’t want to preempt something you plan to talk about later, but does gender figure into this?

Brownell: It’s fine to talk about it now. I’ve done a lot of work with women’s career development and I do believe that men and women have different sets of competencies that come naturally to them. There are some people who would disagree, but men tend to be more assertive and more readily authoritative. Women tend to be better listeners. Women tend to be more emphatic.

The servant leader has a lot of characteristics that have always been associated with women’s leadership style. The wonderful thing is that, where in the past these characteristics may have been associated with weakness or pointed to as reasons why women are less effective, now the pendulum has swung and these same characteristics fit perfectly with the philosophy of servant leadership.

Wofford: And what’s at the heart of that philosophy?

Brownell: Servant leadership empowers followers. Rather than telling them what to do, and giving them a little bit of training here and there, servant leadership is about really developing your employees, really sitting down with them and asking, “What is it that you need to do your job better?”

It’s about looking at each employee as individually as possible. I believe that the opportunity to do this exists in most organizations. It could be as simply as just sitting down with people and asking, “Are you happy at your job? What is it that I can do as a leader to help?”

A leader presumably has more access to more resources and can perhaps shift an employee to a better position or cross-train them or whatever it is that they need to be happier and more effective in their work.

Wofford: We’ve got a good question here from Karen. She writes: “Yes, the servant leadership style may be more like a ‘woman’s style’ but in my experience (and I think research backs this up) men’s style of leadership includes a mentoring skill, whereas it is harder to find women leaders who mentor other females up the ranks.” Judi, any thoughts on that?

Brownell: Yeah, I’ve got lot of thoughts on that. I did a lot of work on that particular problem, in fact. This is really digressing from our main topic, but it’s interesting. I did a study asking women coming out of an MBA program whether they thought they would be as effective as men in a leadership role. They all said yes.

Then I asked them if they would rather work for men or women, and almost 90 percent of the women said they would rather work for a man than work for a woman. When it comes to mentoring, women either are the very best team ever or they are in conflict with one another, particularly when they are in an organization with very few women and a lot of men.

We need women mentoring women and we need women being advocates for women. And I think there are a lot of women out there who are great mentors – we just need to expand that pool. I think if organizations can build women’s confidence, then they will do a lot more to mentor other women.

Wofford: You said that was a bit of a digression. Where were you planning to go?

Brownell: I wanted to talk about the importance of compassion in the workplace. If you’re a servant leader and you really listen well to your employees and to your colleagues, it really does start a very positive chain reaction. People will see you as a role model and then they too will begin to also listen and be more compassionate in the workplace. Satisfaction at work really escalates when people feel like they are friends. There was a time when employers didn’t want their workers to be their friends because they thought the employees wouldn’t be as productive, but actually we’re finding that almost the opposite is true. The feeling that you’re surrounded by people who care about you makes a huge difference in how we feel about the workplace.

Wofford: Still, from an employer’s standpoint it’s a lot harder to fire someone you’ve become friends with.

Brownell: Yeah, well that’s true. It is harder to fire a friend, for sure. But I’m not talking about friends in the sense that you go bowling together after work. I mean a friend more in the sense of caring about someone because you know a little about them and they know a little about you. But your point is really well taken because that leads to another really interesting area, which is how close can you be with people that work for you without creating perceptions of preferential treatment or favoritism.

Nevertheless, compassion, empathy and caring is really important for a leader. The servant leader feels that the organization is in their care, so they care about its people and everything in it in a way that’s somewhat different than a leader who feels like they own the organization and that they’re driving it in whatever direction they want.

Another thing that I think is really interesting that characterizes the servant leader is self knowledge. I think often we’re so caught up in the actual doing – do this, do that, have this meeting, manage that project – that to have someone who is able to sit back and be introspective is a real treat.

You know, people are taught to talk, talk, talk but no one ever teaches anyone to really listen. Yet, to make good decisions you really need to gather information. Listening is really important to servant leaders. Not only that they’re listening but that people are able to see that they’re listening. Empowering employees and caring about them means paying attention to them.

I think the things that the servant leader focuses on are a little bit different. It’s more people-centric. It’s not that servant leaders are weak. They’re not weak at all. They’re very courageous in how they are honest and caring in the organization.

Wofford: It’s much more about making the best decisions even when they very well might be unpopular, right? Ultimately, the idea is to serve your vocation, right?

Brownell: Right, and being forthright with the information – some good, some bad – about what was done and what decisions were made. I think the whole transparency theme in organizations is important, and I think the servant leader facilitates that.

Wofford: We’ve got another great question from Karen here: “What about when servant leadership bites you in the butt? I tried to practice servant leadership but it comes back to bite me sometimes. Too much empathy, in particular, bites me.” What do you say to that?

Brownell: Empathy should be about recognizing someone else’s position and feeling how it affects them, but the consequences still need to be there. You know, if a student comes to me and says, “Oh I was trying to print and my printer broke down and that is why I’m a day late.” That’s when I say, “I understand that this happened and I’m sorry, but I’m still not giving you credit.”

Empathy is just indicating to the individual that you have in fact heard them, you understand how it could happen and you appreciate that they came to you and explained. But you still have a goal to reach. You still have a policy to meet. So empathy does not mean allowing people to slack off.

Rather than telling people what to do, servant leaders use persuasion whenever possible. This gets people sincerely on board and fosters ethical practices. Ethics have been a real big concern of mine. Sometimes we assume that someone is unethical when actually they haven’t even recognized that there was an ethical issue or an ethical component to what they were doing. They haven’t necessarily considered how their decision affects other people. So modeling ethical practices and being vocal about them are other important aspects of servant leadership.

Wofford: This also ties in to the self-reflection you mentioned earlier, right?

Brownell: That’s right and I think that self-reflection is actually a neglected leadership behavior and yet, if you read about really powerful leaders in various types of industries, almost without exception they mention how important it is to just sit back and kind of think about yourself and your own goals and what’s important to you, what you value, your strengths and weaknesses.

One of the things that a leader needs to do is to have what we call behavioral integrity, which means behaving in a way that corresponds with what they say. If I say I value being healthy but the bowl of M&Ms on my desk is the only thing I have for lunch, that is not displaying behavioral integrity. I think leaders should reflect on whether their actions back up their words.

Another thing to explore is who you become as a leader. One of the transformative things that I’ve been taking a look at is what being a leader does to one’s sense of self. There is this view that power corrupts, and I think servant leadership really helps prevent that.

I think self-reflection, no matter what position you’re in, is really important in the end. Sometimes it may have been so long since you last gave yourself the freedom to really think in these terms that it can be hard to know where to begin. One way to begin is to take some key themes and write down your own self-perceptions and then have someone else tell you what they think about you in those areas.

Wofford: And the servant leader is not only providing this sort of self feedback, they are also providing supportive feedback to their employees, right?

Brownell: It’s really about empowerment. As you empower someone, it implies that you trust them because you’re taking the time to coach them and mentor them. You’re giving them feedback, which is a sign that you care about them and how they are doing. You’re observing and helping them perform even better.

That then increases trust because as a leader you are basically saying, “I’m sure you’re not going to do it exactly the way that I would do it, but I trust that you understand the values and the goals and I trust that you are doing the best you can on behalf of the organization.”

Employees really take off when they feel like someone’s supporting them and that they can be instrumental in the organization’s success.

Wofford: Judi, thank you so much for this introduction to servant leadership.

Brownell: Thank you, Chris. It was nice to join you again.

Want to hear more? This interview is based on Judi Brownell’s live eCornell WebSeries event, Empower Your Team Through Servant Leadership. Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Hospitality topics.

Cornell’s New Certificate Program Equips Learners with Essential Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Participants learn strategies for effective decision-making and influencing in their organizations

 

July, 2018 (Ithaca NY) –

Strong critical thinking skills consistently rank high on employers’ lists of must-have qualifications for hires. Yet a recent study revealed that nearly half rated their employees’ critical thinking skills as only average or below average. In today’s fast-paced business climate, careful and sound thought around decisions has never been a more essential mindset to adopt at every level of a company.

Recognizing the desirability of a workforce that possesses a disciplined, systematic approach to problem solving, Cornell has announced the launch of a new certificate program in Critical Thinking. Available 100% online through eCornell, this certificate program will help learners develop the skills needed to deeply analyze a problem, assess possible solutions and understand associated risks. Learners will hone their strategic decision-making skills following a methodology based on tested actions and sound approaches.

“Critically thoughtful problem-solving is both a discipline and a skill — one that helps teams and organizations thrive,” said Cornell Johnson School professor Risa Mish, who designed the program’s core course in Critical and Strategic Thinking. “The Critical Thinking certificate program is designed to better align learners’ skills with those desired by their current and future employers.”

Whether learners are interested in preparing for a management role or already lead in an executive capacity, the Critical Thinking certificate program will equip them to confidently tackle any decision large or small, make compelling business cases, and apply influence in their organization in a way that creates optimal conditions for success.

Learners enrolled in the certificate program can contribute to the success of their organization by understanding how to respond decisively and consistently when faced with situations requiring a decision, analyzing potential solutions from multiple perspectives, and establishing responsibilities and accountabilities to ensure effective follow-through once decisions are made. Courses include:

  • Solving Problems Using Evidence and Critical Thinking
  • Making a Convincing Case for Your Solution
  • Strategic Decision-Making
  • Navigating Power Relationships
  • Interpreting the Behavior of Others
  • Applying Strategic Influence

Upon successful completion of all six courses, learners earn a Critical Thinking Certificate from Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business.

Cornell’s New Project Management Certificate Program Prepares Professionals for a Project-Driven Future

According to Deloitte, the successful organizations of the future will likely be those that can “move faster, adapt more quickly, and learn more rapidly.” Between 2010 and 2020, 15.7 million new project management jobs are expected to be created in the global job market as organizations position themselves to create the rapid velocity and agility today’s digital world demands. Now, professionals can build skills for the project-driven future with Cornell’s new Project Management online certificate program while accumulating 50 education hours toward their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

 

“This program is for anyone who works in a project environment, regardless of function or industry. Professionals gain a concise understanding of today’s project management space, learn practical skills and tools, and address crucial behavioral issues affecting project success,” said faculty author Linda Nozick, Ph.D., professor and director of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University.

 

Available through eCornell, the Project Management program includes five online courses that can be completed over three months in three to five hours per week. Students will learn and practice how to:

 

    • Get Organized: Schedule, track, and control projects using work breakdown structures, project networks, Gantt charts, and PERT calculations.

 

  • Plan and Manage Resources: Combat the “creeps”—in scope, budget, effort, and time—by identifying critical project resources, resource leveling, “crashing” or “fast tracking” certain tasks, and understanding behavioral dynamics.
  • Manage Risk: Understand types of project risk and use tools to assess the probability of project completion, make decisions, and mitigate risk.
  • Track Performance: Use earned value management (EVM) to summarize project performance across budget, deliverables, and schedule as work unfolds.
  • Think Agile: Learn the agile project management mindset, where best to use it, and how it differs from traditional waterfall and LEAN methodologies.

 

 

The Project Management certificate does not require formal project management training, is relevant for project team leaders, managers, and members, and is especially helpful for experienced project managers who seek a practical framework for project success.

Cornell’s New Programs Equip Managers and HR Leaders to Build an Aware Organizational Culture

Participants learn critical strategies for creating a supportive and engaging workplace

As today’s headlines prove, an inclusive work environment is not just a nice-to-have, it can make or break a company. Engaged employees, a diverse workforce, and an inclusive climate provide organizations with a competitive advantage. Recognizing the need for companies to understand the complex dynamics underlying diversity challenges and opportunities within their organizations, Cornell has now announced the launch of two new online Diversity and Inclusion certificate programs.

Available 100% online through eCornell, learners can choose from a program designed expressly for HR professionals and a track for managers in any part of the organization. The programs teach learners critical strategies to help their teams increase employee engagement, counter unconscious bias, and build a more inclusive work environment.

“An organization is only as good as its culture—and every manager and HR leader is responsible for culture,” said Cornell ILR professor Lisa H. Nishii, who authored the program. “It goes without saying that organizations today must move beyond mere compliance and focus on constructing a work culture that promotes inclusion. The problem is, despite the ubiquity of the term inclusion, its definition and implementation often remain murky. This set of courses is designed to train workplace professionals to decode unconscious bias and how it affects employees, and to design work practices and norms that more effectively leverage the potential among all employees.”

Learners enrolled in the certificate programs can help make their organization a more inclusive and engaging place to work by understanding the perceptual, institutional, and psychological processes that impact the ways people interact with each other. Courses include:

  • Improving Engagement
  • Counteracting Unconscious Bias
  • Diversity and Inclusion in Practice
  • Fostering an Inclusive Climate

Upon successful completion of all four courses, learners earn a Diversity and Inclusion Certificate from Cornell University’s ILR School.