Quinoa & Servant Leadership – 3 tips for you to serve through listening

Fad Diets & Servant Leadership – Listening

Last week I gave you three tips to help get out from under Servant Leadership and reclaim your role as a boss. In the coming weeks, I will unpack the characteristics that Robert K. Greenleaf developed in his “Servant Leadership” model that Servant Leaders should possess: This Week: Listening Unpacking Servant Leader Characteristics

Like quinoa, paleo and glutton free diets, when concepts like servant leadership are taken to an extreme, it becomes unhealthy and a bit crazy. That is not to say there isn’t value in Servant Leadership, but as the adage goes: if the only tool you own is a hammer, everything becomes a nail.

Proponents of Servant Leadership argue that traditional leadership needs to be reinforced by a deep commitment to listening intently and identifying the will of a group.

The will of the group? You are the leader!

As the leader, you have the responsibility to guide and focus the will of the group solely on your mission and objectives. To ensure that people are focused on the right work and contributing to the achievement of your goals, you must listen to them. But how? Use Silence.

Silence is power. With silence, we can hear what is being said but also what is not being said. With silence, it can be easier to reach the truth. (click here to read the full blog on communicating with silence) Use one of these tips to use silence to improve your conversation skills:

  1. When someone has answered a question, you asked, pause.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum and rushes to fill it, most people cannot stand silence, and they will quickly fill those silent parts of a conversation with talk. You will learn the most remarkable things if you just let people talk. Everyday immigration officers prove this at the border. They ask a question, you answer, and then they go quiet and look at you. Most people prattle on about their trip, how much extra booze or smokes they have brought home, or they fidget and give off body language that says to the officer that they are hiding something.

2. Losing control of a conversation? Ask a question and shut up.

Studies have shown that a person can think twice as fast as they can talk. When you need time, ask an open-ended question and wait for the answer. Invest that time, they are talking into thinking the issue to move the conversation towards the outcome you want.

3. When someone asks you a question, pause silently.

Nobody likes a know-it-all. When you answer too quickly, people think you have not considered their question. If you are not 100% sure of the answer, pause. Then answer.

You, as the leader, must ensure every action, word, and silence must contribute to meeting your objectives. That is how best you serve as a leader!

The Tyranny Of Servant Leadership – 5 Things You Need To Do To Free Yourself

I was a Sergeant Major in the Canadian Army.

I held the second-highest non-commissioned officer rank and had a role that I loved and aspired. It was a job of power and influence. I carried a responsibility to my soldiers and, most importantly, to my leaders.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Latin root of the words ‘Sergeant Major’ was ‘Head Servant.’

Once I got over the indignation of being a servant, I realized my job was one of service.

Introduction to Servant Leadership Theory

Servant Leadership is a leadership philosophy first espoused by Robert Greenleaf in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader,” in which he states that servant leaders are servants first and leaders later. This is in sharp contrast to what many see as traditional leaders who aspire to lead through power and acquiring material benefits.

Many management thinkers such as Blanchard, Covey and Senge have since then reinforced the Servant Leadership Theory. More recently, Simon Sinek has made millions with his Leaders Eat Last book by encapsulating the importance of service to achieve your results.

The essence of servant leadership—serve the employees first and success will follow—is thousands of years old, dating back to hundreds of centuries to India and China, the Bible and texts of Islam. In contemporary practice, it means actively listening to employees, treating them as people with needs, interests and failings, and respecting their roles in the company and the world.

Unfortunately, the concept of servant leadership tends towards philosophical musings with little practical application. Worse than that, many people read into the concept that as leaders that they must cede power and authority to their employees.

5 Ways To Free Yourself From The Philosophic Tyranny

Servant Leadership does not mean you prostrate yourself to your employees but there are everyday habits leaders can incorporate into their management routines that can have powerful results.

Listen. Pay attention to how you interact in face-to-face conversations, large groups and meetings. Find meaningful ways to invite feedback and suggestions. (Read more about using silence)

Appreciate. Instead of assuming people will do things wrong, shift your attitude to look for people doing things right. Learn to appreciate that no one shows up to work to do a poor job and tell them you appreciate them. (Read about saying thank you)

Respect. Do you treat the janitor the same respect as the CEO? You, as the leader, set your team’s culture of respect.

Develop. Do you offer your employees the tools to become the best they can be? Provide training, professional development, book clubs or other personal growth tools? Emphasize coaching over controlling.

Unleash. People have power and energy so how can you help them develop it? Decentralizing as many decisions as possible so employees can help you achieve your results.

What’s Next?

Over the next weeks, I’ll unpack Servant Leadership in more detail.

I hope to turn those philosophical nuggets into practical and applicable tools you can use to get results.

Boy I Don’t Like that SOB in Accounting – 5 ways to Manage That Guy You Can’t Stand!

A few years back, I hired a person against the wishes of other people on my team. I was sure he had the right skills and experience and hiring the usual suspects hadn’t gotten the results I needed & wanted so maybe it was time to be disruptive.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I liked him either. He wasn’t kind or diplomatic in his comments. He simply wasn’t likable.

I tried to focus on the content of what he was saying rather than the way he was saying it, and I coached others to do the same. I also invested time in helping him understand how he was coming across and coached him to alter his style. My attitude toward him never really changed but he slowly started to fit in and began achieving results.

What if you don’t like someone on your team?

Can you be a good & fair boss to someone you wouldn’t sit with if you had to share the last seat on a bus with?

The presumption is that your job would be easy if you liked everyone at work.

Life would be easy if cats slept with dogs and Mom’s kisses made boo-boos go away, but that’s not reality nor is it what’s best for you, your team, or your company.

You have to accept the fact that this person is not going to be your BFF.

The real test is: Are they doing good work? Are they achieving results?

The employees you gravitate toward are probably the ones you want to go for a beer with. You need people around you who can challenge you with new insights and help propel the group to be better.

Like the Boy who said the employer had no clothes people like these can ask the hard questions and, maybe, can stop you from doing something stupid.

Here’s how to get the most out of someone you don’t like:

1. Make it about You first – It’s important to learn how to handle your frustrations: Figure out why you are reacting the way you are by asking the following:

  • Is the problem really with the individual?       Does the person remind you of the miserable old aunt or that first awful boss and now he or she can do nothing right.
  • Do you see this person as a threat? If your direct report constantly interrupts you, you may react strongly.
  • Are they a member of a group that I have a problem with? You need to be honest with yourself about any hidden biases you may have.

2. You have to put on a good face – Everyone wants their boss to like them. Whatever your feelings for your employee, he will be highly attuned to your attitude and will presume that any disapproval has to do with his performance. As the Boss, you are the adult in the room, and it’s up to you to be fair and respectful.

3. You have to seek out the positive – No one is 100% annoying. It’s easy to see the worst in people who bother you. A boss of mine once said that no one comes to work hoping to do a crappy job, so assume the best about how they can help your team.

4. You have to keep your bias out of the way – When someone irks you, you need to be especially vigilant about keeping your bias out of the evaluation by asking: “Am I using the same standards that I use for other people?”

5. Sorry to tell you this, but you have to spend more time with that guy – This might sound like the last thing you want to hear, but it might help to give yourself more exposure to the problem employee. Sometimes over time, if you work together, you may come to appreciate them.

Have you ever been the victim of being a Board of Directors member or supporting staff?

Boards of Directors have been the subjects of many conversations lately. A close friend working with an agency that funds & supports not-for-profits told me that Board of Directors/Executive Director relationships are at an all-time low. Simultaneously I am hearing from more and more people who are disappointed with their involvement as Board members.

Why? In my opinion, there are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Recent Federal legislation impacting Charities have raised the legal & fiduciary responsibilities of Boards and individual Directors. Therefore, people on Boards of Directors or considering joining a Board of Directors are taking that role much more seriously: and, rightfully so!
  1. Charities want to grow and expand and therefore are recruiting high-potential members to do that very thing. The very nature of those Board of Directors members causes them to question and make demands of the organization. This often rubs the senior staff person the wrong way.
  1. The CEO/ED is, in fact, the Board’s employee. YES … Employee! And I bet $100 that most Boards of Directors and most CEO/ED’s are not truly aware of what that means or the implications of that employee/employer relationship.
  1. The ED/CEO is often the founder or ‘founder-like’ of the organization. They put their heart & soul into it, and when the Board of Directors asks questions or challenges the staff person’s position, it becomes a very personal matter … emotions take over, and problems ensue.

The Point?

Boards of Directors should be considered the same as any team of the organization. To be certain, they are an important team as they are, or represent, the owners of that organization. The ED/CEO needs to understand that they are an important part of the organization, but they are not the ‘Owner.’

The Board of Directors must understand that they are the ED/CEO’s boss and must act as such. There are litanies of examples where that employee/employer relationship is so poisonous that the organization is put into peril. Boards have, sometimes, treated the ED/CEO is a manner that would never fly in the Board Members place of employment.

The Board of Directors and the ED/CEO should be like any other high-performance team. They should be competent, coordinated, collegial and focused on an unambiguous goal. And, to ensure High performance the Board should maintain a laser-like focus on the following aspects:

  1. The Right Role
  2. The Right People
  3. The Right Agenda
  4. The Right Information
  5. The Right Culture

Oh yeah, each member of this Team, volunteer or staff, should realize that they are not Hunter Harris and a group of activist shareholders taking over CP Rail; get over themselves; and, focus on what is truly important … the health of their organization and the people they serve

If this was of interest click here, read my thoughts about engaging volunteers

People Pleasing Leaders & Soup Sandwiches – 5 messes you make when you try to make everyone happy.

I sat across from a client recently who was struggling with the direction his company is going. As we delved into the matter I asked some probing questions:


How bad is the problem?

  1. If the situation at work was a chest pain is it:
  • Heartburn
  • Angina; or
  • Cardiac arrest?
  1. What was the end-state he was hoping for from us working together?
  1. Had he already made his mind up about what he wanted to see and needed me to provide justification?
  1. Did he want out?


Luckily we are dealing with heartburn chest pain; he truly wants his company to be everything it could ever be; He knows it can be better and needs help getting there; and, He wants to grow and thrive with his team.

But he did say something that stopped me in my tracks … “I am a pleaser and want everyone to be happy,” I responded to him that being a pleaser is like making a soup-sandwich.

 Click to read more about how to recognize your people

How do you make a soup sandwich?

You take a slice of bread, pour a ladle of soup over it and cover that with the second slice of bread. What you end up with is not a bowl of soup or a sandwich, but a hell of a mess. Sort of what you get when a leader tries to make everyone happy.


Let’s accept one simple fact… Leadership is hard.

It is equally exhilarating and challenging, but it is hard.

Every hard decision a leader makes will inevitably excite some and upsets others. At the same time, we want people to like us personally and in our role as a leader: That can lead to people pleasing. When that happens, we begin to lead by opinion polls than vision.


What happens when we try to lead by pleasing?

  1. No one is satisfied – When the leader tries to please everyone … no one is happy.
  1. Tension mounts – People are conditioned to jockey for positions with the people pleaser leader. This creates a political tempest among people who should be working together.
  1. Disloyalty reigns – People don’t trust a people pleaser. They quickly learn what the leader says isn’t necessarily the whole truth, but what will keep the leader popular.
  1. Frustration rules – People pleasing leads to fractured teams and fragmented visions.
  1. Visions stall – Great visions take us where we’ve never been. That means change and who is happy with change. People pleasers like people to be happy … see where this will end up?


Can you gauge if you are a people pleaser?

Someone told me once that when you move on from your current leadership role the way to gauge that you have been a good leader is that the going-away-party attendees should fall into three groups:

  1. 25% should be crying that you are leaving;
  2. 25% should be cheering that you are leaving; and
  3. 50% shouldn’t care.

My guess is that when a people pleaser moves on … everyone is cheering.

Learn more about being a thoughtful leader by reading my book:


Read my thoughts on Trust … They can’t kill me … it’s against the rules!

As a young soldier and emerging leader, I was sent on a patrolling course to learn a vitally important skill in the infantry. In a sense, patrolling is the eyes & ears of the Regiment and often a way of reaching out and ‘touching’ the enemy. Patrolling happens at all times of the day, but more often in the dark, and the weather is no reason to put off a patrol.

This particular course was held in early spring on cold & wet ground, in cold & damp weather, eating cold & wet food and sleeping in cold & wet sleeping bags. It was terrible, but equally exhilarating & trying as any mental and physical test could ever be. Of the 25 guys that started, we were down to 15 through attrition & injuries.

The final ‘test’ for the course was a 25K patrol through swamps and over rocks and in even worse weather than we had experienced up till then. At the end of the patrol, we were expected to scramble up a significant hill on the edge of the water; the winds were blowing sleet straight into our faces so hard it felt like BBs were being shot at us.

The instructors started yelling and screaming at us to run up the hill. Looking up the mountain as we ran, it appeared like we were approaching the lip of a cliff that fell hundreds of feet into the water. There were instructors at the edge of the approaching abyss yelling and calling us to jump seemingly into thin air and then into whatever lay below. Were we lemmings being run to our death?

At a certain point, I am sure I was thinking, “I quit! I didn’t sign up for this! These crazy bastards are going to kill us!” But I remembered these instructors were my leaders, guys I knew and worked with intimately. They were professionals who I respected. My mindset changed to, “Don’t be a scaredy-cat … they aren’t allowed to kill me; it is against the rules!” So I jumped off the cliff and fell about 10’ into the arms of the instructors, who congratulated me for passing the course.

I had faith in the integrity of my leaders and that they were pros & intended to develop me into the best soldier I could be. I knew they were consummate professionals, and I knew exactly what results in they expected. In short, I trusted them. Sadly that day, three guys didn’t believe, didn’t fling themselves off the cliff and failed the course.

Trust is remarkable; if it is present, it is an exponential force multiplier. If absent, it is a cost that can take down a person, the team and the objectives of the organization