Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Servant Leadership - A Dialogue

Last Thursday, I posted an article byLarry Spears on the topic of Servant Leadership. The article elicited a fascinating response from Bill Batten. To save you from having to dig in the archives, I am posting Bill's comments below:

Larry Spears points to the servant-leader having many highly desireable personality characteristics such as listening, empathy, awareness, conceptualization and other externally focused traits. Folks having those traits are in exceedingly short supply. Such persons are self-starters and exhibit Abraham Maslow's "Self-Actualization" performance level aspect.Maslow's Needs Hierarchy have been pushed aside somewhat over the past twenty years as additional personality, psychology and behavioral theories have been developed. Yet, to this practicing businessman, Maslow's work continues to offer a clear explanation as to why the 80/20 Rule is alive, well and never going away. I've worked with many independent sales representatives and it is the folks that never get above Maslow's Level 4 (Esteem) that are the 80 Percenters. Give us a Self-Actuator with the Spears' Servant-Leader profile and no matter what the external market conditions, we will show you a top 20 Percenter one day. I daresay the Spears' Servant-Leaders will be found in a high percentage of successful small business owners with many likely to have been previously undiscovered or underutilized potential "stars" in large organizations.The big question is it nature or nurture that creates Servant-Leaders? As an impressionable young man in the early 1970's I would have said environment is the biggest factor influencing behavior. But having interfaced with thousands of folks over the intervening years, it appears the 80/20 rule may also apply to the nature/nurture argument with nature getting the 80% end of the personality see-saw. A recently popular buzz phrase perhaps captures the argument best - "It is what it Is". A Servant-Leader will nearly always rise like cream to the top and we are all better for their ascension be it within corporations, on the battlefield or in our communities.

Bill Batten

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I appreciate Bill reminding us of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and of the so-called "Pareto's Principle" (The 80/20 rule). With regard to the "Nature vs. Nurture" question, I would make the following observations:

It would seem to me that the best Servant Leaders possess some innate leadership traits (nature) and then hone those traits in environments where they are tested, challenged, mentored and led by men and women who model Servant Leadership (nurture). I think of the leader whose leadership skills have been refined in the crucible of a Service Academy and subsequent assignments in commanding troops. To gain admission to West Point, Annapolis, Air Force Academy or Coast Guard Academy, a future officer must already have proven that she/he is among the cream of the crop - academically, physically, ethically, emotionally. The four years of rigorous training and weeding out of those who cannot thrive under the sustained pressure further ensures that those who graduate are truly among the elite. The nascent leadership skills that recent graduates have developed to this point are further tested and refined in the real world of leading troops - enlisted and commissioned. Not everyone who emerges at the end of this pipeline can be properly called a "Servant Leader," but they tend to be more servant-oriented than the "average bear"!

(My apologies to those whose introduction to military leadership did not come by way of one of the Service Academies. I know many fine officers who came to military service by way of ROTC, the National Guard, etc. My default setting is often to refer to Service Academy graduates because in my executive search practice, many of the senior executives I have come to know are graduates of USMA, USNA, USAFA or USCGA.)

Al Chase

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