Action through values-based Servant Leadership

[First, previous in series]

This is last in a series of nine articles exploring the matrix below (introduced here), and we’ve reached the bottom right hand corner.

Agendashift puts Servant Leadership at the intersection of “Values-based leadership” and “Action”. This is not to keep Servant Leadership in its box somehow (we’ll see that it has application right across the framework); rather it is to emphasise that it is an active thing, not just a question of style. Moreover, after reading this post you’d be forgiven for thinking that Agendashift is mostly about Servant Leadership!

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I am on record as taking issue with the simplistic characterisation of Servant Leadership as “unblock all the things and get out of the way”. It’s not hard to guess why this gets taught, but this kind of facilitation is only the beginning of process that requires anticipation, proactivity, presence, and patience. As I wrote previously, Greanleaf’s inspiring vision of Servant Leadership is a long game:

  1. Removing impediments so that others can be successful
  2. Enabling autonomy and meaning in others as together we meet external needs in the pursuit of the organisation’s mission and purpose
  3. Developing servant leadership and servant leaders for the long term

The systems thinker will recognise that there are reinforcing loops at play here. It’s the kind of thinking that long-lived organisations have already applied – they understand that without it, their culture is unlikely to be sustained across generations. Greenleaf goes on to describe this process at the level of the individual (“The servant as leader”), the organisation and its service to society (“The institution as servant”), and the governance and stewardship that keeps it true (“Trustees as servants”). It’s stretching stuff, but still reachable.

Too hard? Too big? If you aspire to leadership, try using the Agendashift framework to give some structure to this challenge. Column-wise from the right, look for opportunities in the following:

1. Values-based leadership:

  • Facilitating exploration and agreement on the purpose and values of  your organisation (or your part thereof). Consider its service to its customers, its position in its immediate ecosystem, and its broader contribution to employees, customers and other stakeholders, even its role in society. Be ready to give due recognition to behaviours that exemplify the organisation’s shared values, and to provide appropriate challenge when gaps emerge between purpose, values, and behaviour (more on this below under Values-based delivery).
  • Pursuing fitness for purpose for the organisation and meaning for its staff. Reah a shared understanding what fitness looks like, tracking progress towards it. Recognise that competition can make this a moving target, so allow your thinking to be challenged from time to time. Encourage alignment between purpose and meaning, but have the openness to accept that people can find meaning in their work in a wide variety of ways.

2.Values-based change

3) Values-based delivery

  • Making needs a primary concern of your delivery process – a more fundamental and powerful shift than many realise
  • Aligning outcomes, not being satisfied with measuring success only in your own narrow terms
  • Organising for service, such that everyone knows what they’re delivering (not just what they do), to whom (whether internal or external), and why it matters (to the end customer most especially). But don’t rush to the big reorg! Start by organising the work and let the rest follow.

Still too big? I have three suggestions. The first could be called “Small acts of values-based leadership”. Here, each bite-sized leadership opportunity relates to one of Kanban’s values (six of the nine are represented here explicitly), and I’m quoting from my book Kanban from the Inside:

  • Transparency: In knowledge work, things don’t make themselves visible or explicit by themselves; leaders choose to make them so. This is as true in the small details—the wording of a policy, for example—as it is in the bigger things, such as institutional feedback loops.
  • Balance: Where are we overloaded, and why? Are our pain points obvious, or does the volume of work hide them? Is the mix of work right? There is leadership opportunity in asking these questions as well as in the decisions that may follow.
  • Collaboration: Making an introduction, reaching out, sharing a problem, noticing how people interact—all of these can be acts of leadership.
  • Customer focus: It takes leadership to acknowledge that the process may be ineffective at discovering and meeting real customer needs.
  • Flow: Are you seeing it? What is stuck today? Where do blockages repeatedly occur? Why is that? These are everyday questions of leadership.
  • Leadership: Encouraging leadership in others can demand real leadership on the part of the encourager. Kanban’s kind of leadership not only spreads, it reinforces itself.

My second suggestion is the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment. This has the same six categories as “Small acts of values-based leadership” above, but offers a number of specific prompts that point in the direction of mature organisational behaviour. There’s a mini 18-prompt version available to all; get in touch if you’d like access to the full 44-prompt version, perhaps for a consolidated group exercise. After taking the assessment, which prompts would you prioritise? What action would you take? What impact do you think it would have? How would you know?

My third suggestion is to get help, whether that’s from me (helping leaders engaged in Lean-Agile transformation is a large part of what I do), from someone you source locally, or from someone you already trust. When you’re playing a long game like this, it really helps have someone close by who will help you put things into words and put your challenges and frustrations into proper perspective. Input in the form of training, coaching, or consultancy can be invaluable too. You don’t need to do it on your own!

Agendashift resources


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