I became enamored of the concept Servant Leadership in the 1980s. Developed by Robert Greenleaf, it’s defined thus: a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. Greenleaf says, “The servant–leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve.”
Such an important concept, yet the skills to practice it elude us. I’d like to help change that.
THE BIAS PROBLEM
As a Quaker, I deeply believe that serving one another is a necessary aspect of our lives. But the communication skill sets inherent in our culture don’t make it easy for influencers to truly serve:
- Conventional questions are little more than interrogations based on the needs/biases of the Asker, thereby restricting the full set of possible responses. Obviously this causes flawed data gathering, missed opportunities, resistance, loss of success, and damaged relationships.
- With our subjective listening filters, biases, assumptions, triggers, and habituated neural pathways, normal listening restricts us to hearing mainly what our brains want us to hear. Obviously, our range of understanding is restricted accordingly.
- Information – regardless of its accuracy, importance, or presentation – cannot be accepted or accurately interpreted when it flies in the face of the Other’s Beliefs. It’s just not possible for information gathering or sharing to elicit permanent change, regardless of its efficacy.
- Influencers tend to focus on Behavior Change, forgetting that Behaviors are merely translations of our Beliefs – Beliefs in action if you will. Once we enable Others to change their own unconscious Beliefs, their Behavior will automatically change. And we will have served them.
- Too many influencers (coaches, parents, sellers, leaders, etc.) seek methods to push their agendas using convincing, manipulating, explaining, advising, etc. strategies meant to influence, manipulate, modify, correct, what we think Others should do, causing resistance in all but a few.
With our current skill sets, we end up pushing our own agendas (in the name of the Other, of course), according to our subjective needs, beliefs, and goals (using our ‘professionalism’ and ‘intuition’ to tell ourselves we’re ‘right’) and restrict the full set of possibilities, ignoring the Other’s unique choices.
We assume that we have the moral high ground, that because our intention is honorable, the only missing piece is ‘how best’ to get Others to do what we think they should do.
I once ran a Buying Facilitation® training for The Covey Leadership Center. They staunchly believed that because they were teaching The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, they had the right to push and manipulate.
We forget that by assuming we have Another’s answers we end up taking their power away, assuredly biasing the direction of their growth journey, and not serving them at all. And this actually causes the resistance we receive, and then we blame them – prospects seem ‘stupid’, patients ‘don’t care’ about their health, students ‘don’t want’ to learn, and clients ‘won’t listen’ to us – for resisting.
WHY WE CAN’T CHANGE OTHERS EVEN WITH GOOD MOTIVES
We know someone needs to stop smoking, or eat differently. We are certain the environment is in trouble. But we don’t seem to have the ability to get Others to change. We provide all the scientific evidence, relate a story of someone who has died, or offer different approaches to stop. We know that a company or group really, really needs our solution. And yet they persist with failing results rather than change.
What is going on? Why would anyone prefer to maintain failure rather than change? Seems that way, but it’s not entirely accurate. Everyone would prefer Excellence, but conventional practices do not effectively manage the unconscious that would need to buy-in to, and accommodate for, any change.
Let’s start with our attempts to have Another change a behavior. Our failures are due to the ways our brains have created and maintained our status quo:
- Threatening the system: Our status quo – our Mental Models, our unique ‘system’ of rules, Beliefs, values, experiences, culture, etc. – has become habituated and normalized over time. This system that has developed the Behaviors we think need to be changed but which actually enable us to show up as who we are. We wake up daily, and maintain whoever we were yesterday, without judgement. Our system just IS, good or bad, right or wrong. And it will fight to the death to maintain itself. Literally.
- Change Behaviors: Behaviors are merely Beliefs in action. When we try to change nothing but the Behavior, we push against the entire system. Regardless of the efficacy of a different solution or a dire need, unless the change comes from the within the system (i.e. not an outsider’s brilliant suggestions) and the system is reorganized around the ‘new’, it will be resisted.
- Information doesn’t get heard: Our brains/ears hear subjectively, filtering out and misconstruing what’s not comfortable, failing to tell us that what we think we hear is most likely some fraction off of what the Speaker intended.
- Ignore the steps to change: As outsiders, we too often use our intuition and professed knowledge to push the change we want. But for any change to occur, for the Other’s Beliefs to shift in a way that causes Behaviors to change, the system must take specific, albeit unconscious steps: to include the change into normal operating procedures, end up with minimal disruption, and achieve buy-in for any new behavior change.
Our current approach leads to a high degree of bias, resistance, and failure as we promote changes that challenge Another’s status quo. We don’t realize that anything ‘new’ must fit with the status quo or it gets rejected. We don’t realize we’re actually causing the resistance we receive.
And resist they do – not because our data or goals aren’t worthy or necessary, and not because they don’t want to change per se, but because our good will, shared information, and ‘push’ tactics conflict with the Other’s unconscious system that protects itself from unknowable disruption.
Indeed, any modifications to the status quo would have to be performed in a way would leave the system congruent. The system would rather be as it is, than not exist. And the time it takes for the system to accept and make room for the ‘new’ is the length of time it takes for adoption. With the best will in the world our suggestions challenge their Systems Congruence.
And unfortunately, as doctors and sellers, trainers and consultants, parents and coaches – as influencers – we don’t have the skills to do more than attempt to cause the change WE think is needed, rather than elicit it. We don’t naturally possess the skills of Servant Leadership.
GIVE UP INDIVIDUAL NEEDS
True Servant Leadership enables others to elicit their own congruent change. We need new skills that facilitate Others, and a switch in perspective to enabling Others to discover their own answers by facilitating Another’s change, offering real leadership.
I’ve spent my life coding and training the unconscious route through to choice and change. Although I’ve used it in the sales industry (Buying Facilitation®), it’s actually a generic Change Facilitation model that offers the tools to enable Others to discover their own Excellence, an Excellence that complies with their own Beliefs, an Excellence that can be eagerly, joyously adopted because it operates from within their status quo.
Servant Leadership assumes:
- Others have their own answers and are the only ones who can effect their own change. An outsider (regardless of intent, need, or efficacy of message) can never, ever, fully understand the inner workings of Another’s unconscious system. Our responsibility is to lead them through the pathway to change themselves.
- We only have questions for Another, not answers. And since conventional questions are biased interrogations (biased by the wording, the intent, and the goal of the Asker) that may miss important, hidden, elements necessary for the Other to elicit their change criteria, I’ve designed a new form of question (Facilitative Questions) that lead Others through their own trajectory of change to discover their own answers, in a way that causes new understanding and decision making.
- There is no way for an outsider to have THE ANSWERS for Another. They have no knowledge of the systemic elements that created and maintain the problem and that must buy-in to any change.
- To listen without bias or misunderstanding, we must practice Dissociative Listening to avoid the filters, bias, assumptions, and triggers that are part of our normal listening. [Note: for those interested in learning Dissociative Listening, read Chapter 6 in What?.]
Decades ago, I mapped the sequential steps of systemic choice, change, and decision making enabling people to discover their own best choices that match the rules and values of their internal system. These steps traverse a pathway from the unconscious through to buy-in and Systems Congruence so change is comfortably adopted.
I have taught these skill sets to influencers in business, coaching, leadership, and healthcare to assist in facilitating permanent, congruent change: to help buyers buy, to help coaches, leaders, and doctors elicit congruent, permanent change, to help learners learn permanently – eliciting the core of the unconscious HOW to facilitate Another’s excellence their own way – to find their own answers.
So what would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to begin interactions as a Servant Leader rather than a coach, parent, seller, leader? How can you know, given the skill sets and foundations are so different, that it’s worth taking the time to add new skill sets to the ones you already use? Imagine having the skills that truly enable Others to find their own Excellence. Imagine being a true Servant Leader.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at email@example.com.
29 thoughts on “Servant Leadership: new skills to serve others, and why the old ones don’t work”
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